A 7–2 majority of councillors voted for a 7.5 per cent Special Rate Variation (SRV) at last Thursday’s meeting.
Another motion by Cr Sarah Ndiaye (Greens) passed with almost unanimous support (Cr Spooner against) and will see a review of Council’s rating structure and a possible redistribution between residents, business, and farmland.
Paid parking looks set to go from $3 to $4 from July and will be used for ‘asset renewal.’
Residential properties used for holiday letting will also be identified and a process will be developed to reclassify these properties as businesses for rating purposes.
The 7.5 per cent rise will be a cumulative compounded rise: after four years rates will be 33.5 per cent higher than now.
Council’s media spokesperson said, ‘The increase over a four-year period on an average rate of $1,139 is a total of $382. That is, it would go from the current $1,139 to $1,521 in 2020/21.’
But the decision needs approval from the Independent Pricing and Regulatory Tribunal (IPART), which had already pegged a 1.5 per cent rise across the state for 2017–18. A Council spokesperson told The Echo that IPART requires Council to work on the assumption of a 2.5 per cent rise, despite the 1.5 per cent now being confirmed as the actual figure for the 2017–18 year.
Staff also confirmed that the 1.5 per cent IPART rate peg will be included within the 7.5 per cent.
Left-leaning independent Cr Basil Cameron put the motion forward, which also seeks to pursue other avenues for revenue from tourism and government grants as well as letters to state MPs asking for assistance with the Shire’s large visitor numbers.
A new committee is also planned, called the Byron Shire Revenue Exploration Working Party (BSREWP).
During morning access, residents spoke against the rise and implored councillors to look at other measures to find the funds necessary to address the infrastructure backlog.
A campaign led by general manager Ken Gainger claimed the Shire’s infrastructure – mainly roads – are in steep decline and that a rate rise was the only way to address the isssue.
Cr Sarah Ndiaye (Greens) told The Echo that 7.5 per cent ‘was lower than the lowest of the proposed rate rises and by no means an easy decision to make.’
‘Perhaps the consultation could have been clearer, and it would have helped all of us if the time pressures didn’t force it into the summer break, but the community engaged in robust discussion and it elicited more submissions and responses than any other issue I can remember. You can be assured the submissions were read and the information taken on board during our decision-making process.
‘We have been short changed by the state government year after year when it comes to being able to provide the services necessary for our community.
‘There were many suggestions made about ways to derive more revenue so let me address some of them. I was not part of previous councils but I know, from within the current council, we are unanimous in our support for continuing to pursue a levy, tax or tariff to capture extra funds from our visitors to help address their impact on our infrastructure, environment and amenities. There is no guarantee this will happen, or if it does how much regular revenue it would create. The mayor has been communicating with other coastal councils and the appetite is definitely there to mount a campaign for it, but will the state government listen? Only time will tell.
‘Similarly we can approach our local festivals and see if they will contribute to the cost to the community of facilitating these events in our Shire.
‘Currently there is no legislation that compels them to, so we are reliant on the goodwill of our festival owners and operators.
‘Again, this is only something we can hope for, not rely on.
‘Saying “no” to a rate rise would have been easy – and popular. Given the timeframes allowable for SRV applications through IPART, putting this decision off for another year would have been irresponsible and any desire to do so should be seen for exactly what it is, political opportunism.’
Who voted for and against
Councillors in favour of left-leaning independent Cr Basil Cameron’s motion to proceed with a 7.5 per cent rate rise were mayor Simon Richardson, Crs Jeannette Martin, Michael Lyon and Sarah Ndiaye (all Greens). Others in support were left-leaning independent Cate Coorey. Nationals Party-aligned Alan Hunter also supported the rise.
Country Labor’s Paul Spooner and Jan Hackett voted against. An alternative motion by Cr Spooner was to defer the vote, but was rejected by fellow councillors.
A press release by Country Labor later in the day claimed the result would mean Byron Shire will have the highest residential rates on the north coast.
Cr Spooner said, ‘The community response to Council’s consultation has been strongly against a rate rise. People have asked me extensively why Byron Council hasn’t done more to look at raising more revenue from tourists rather than residents.’
• Rates in Byron Shire: Rates are based upon unimproved land values and Council has three broad categories: residential, commercial and farmland.
But within Byron Shire Council’s business rates structure, there are two categories – one for general business rates in Byron Shire (which the ad valorem rate is 1.5 times higher than residential) and Byron Bay CBD business land, which the ad valorem rate is twice the rate of residential land. The farmland category is 0.73 times the residential ad valorem rate. This will now be reviewed by council.
• Cr Ndiaye’s full statement: echo.net.au/cr-ndiayes-response.