Byron Shire Cr Sarah Ndiaye
On Thursday we voted on a rate rise of 7.5 per cent inclusive of the rate peg. This 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 to 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 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 is only something we can hope for, not rely on.
The sale of assets would provide some short-term solutions, but the cost the community is more in the long run and if we as a council can find ways that these assets can help service the community and create income that is a better outcome for everyone, but it takes time and capital investment. Another suggestion was that we should borrow more money instead and that can be part of a good financial plan but the community end up paying more for less and it’s not ongoing. Lastly, my understanding is the idea of a road toll is not legal or possible at this stage and it’s the least likely option for deriving any revenue. The only ways we currently have to raise revenue is rates and paid parking.
I put forward the motion to raise paid parking from $3 to $4 an hour on Thursday raising an estimated 1.2 million dollars more revenue for the next financial year and it was supported by all councillors except Cr Paul Spooner. This is something easy to support in the current climate but it’s important to remember this too was very unpopular when it went out for community consultation. In that situation councillors saw it was necessary so they pushed forward, taking the community feedback on board, using the consultation to tweak and adjust how the system would work. Again, this will help but it is not the only answer.
Saying ‘no’ to a rate rise would have been easy – and popular. Given the time frames 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. As councillors we all knew a rate rise was a necessity and that any delay would compound the backlog of issues further, resulting in more money having to be spent to complete the same repairs.
If IPART approves the SRV then the next thing we need to address is how the burden is shared. Are businesses paying enough? Could people profiting from holiday lets and Airbnb be subject to business rates as opposed to residential rates, bearing in mind as a business their council rates could be a tax deduction to some extent?
Then we will look at our hardship policy and put special provisions in place for people who are perhaps asset rich but cash poor or struggling to meet their basic needs. My feeling is it would be negligent to not go ahead because it may hurt some. Surely its better to assist them and still get the revenue from others who can contribute.
Personally I would have preferred to see a 10 per cent rise including the rate peg, I fear that the 7.5 per centwill only allow for basic road repairs, and the things that add to our community and enrich our lives will still go unfunded. Things I know the community are passionate about like bike paths, foot paths, rural roads and supporting our environment. In saying that, we will work together to get the most from what we have, and continue to pursue the options I have mentioned earlier.
By not introducing this rate rise now, the people most affected will be those with the least amount of say in it. We will be leaving today’s children an uncertain and almost unresolvable problem for their community in the future. I know everyone wont see it this way right now but I really hope people know these decisions have been made with the community interest in mind.