Byron Shire Council has now submitted to the state government to pursue a 33.5 per cent permanent rate rise across the shire.
This resulted from a vote achieved by a coalition of convenience between all non-Labor councillors. Myself and Jan Hackett both voted against a rate rise.
An extensive and expensive community consultation was undertaken on the premise it was to inform the decision making. With such an outcome I now consider the consultation process to be a mere tick box exercise.
Having been put through the council consultation wringer and having your opinions put out to dry you may be feeling a little bit peeved off. You may want to ask councillors a few pertinent questions.
Why was the overwhelming community view ignored? How much did the consultation process cost ratepayers? And, what happens if the state government rejects the proposal as just an extravagant money grab by an unimaginative local council?
I voted against the rate rise because I do not believe it is a sound financial proposition to place the burden of council’s infrastructure backlog on the already over stretched household budgets of our residents.
We live in one of the most unaffordable shires in Australia. This just made it a lot worse for a whole lot of people.
From council’s own figures tourists cause up to 30% of the infrastructure expense while residents and farmers pay over 80% of all council rates. There is a clear imbalance here.
Council needs to consider a different financial plan to get out of this backlog mess that has been created by successive councils. This will become particularly relevant if the state government rejects the rate proposal.
Byron Labor has been a vocal voice against rate rises over the last couple of months. On this basis I propose the following:
1. Increase parking fees in Byron Bay to $4 an hour;
2. Increase parking fees on beach front locations to $5 an hour such as Main Beach and Wategos;
3. Introduce parking fees in limited areas of Brunswick Heads and Bangalow;
4. Ensure that properties used as short term accommodation (i.e. holiday let or AirBnB) for more than three months of the year are classified in the business rate;
5. Increase the commercial rate share progressively from 19.5% to 25% over the next three years;
6. Utilise council’s loan borrowing capacity over a 25 year period to finance the construction of new long term infrastructure;
7. Stop the proposed sale of valuable land assets and create new ongoing revenue streams for council, e.g. develop a regional storage shed facility on vacant council land in the Byron Industrial Estate.
8. Propose an amendment to the Local Government Act to enable a Tourism Levy to be applied to the 2 million tourists who now visit the shire with an aim to raise an additional $2 million per year.
9. Revise the membership of council’s Finance Committee to include outside expertise with an aim to broaden the skill base overseeing council finances.
10. Identify appropriate public/private partnerships to finance council’s ongoing plans for the development of the shire’s towns and villages as expressed in the numerous master plans being developed.
This is a financial plan to address the shortcomings of a council that needs to adopt smarter fiscal wisdom in the years ahead rather than just pulling the rates trigger.
Unlike the current proposal it is not a plan to drive low income residents out of the shire.
Cr Paul Spooner, Byron Bay