Who is funding our future?
In order to be ‘Fit for the Future’ the state government required Byron Shire Council to impose a rate rise in order to balance its budget, otherwise there was a risk of our shire being amalgamated with other councils.
This threat has been reduced with the backlash against mandatory amalgamations that were brought in by the Baird government. However, council still needs funds for the shortfall in the budget.
So now we are being asked to pay a 33.55 per cent increase in our rates over the next four years.
The vast majority of the total rates in this shire come from residential ratepayers, 76 per cent of them last year according to council’s fact sheet and website.
Council has restructured the rating categories for the coming year so that businesses will be paying slightly higher rates, 1.6 per cent more than previously, comprising 21 per cent of the total yield.
Farmland will be paying 0.6 per cent more, 5 per cent of the total. Therefore residential rates will decrease proportionally by 2.2 per cent to 74 per cent of the total yield next year.
Presumably this restructure is aimed at making the residents feel joyful about the 33.5 per cent rate hike that we are now facing. Oh and don’t forget to add on the $50 parking levy and the Fire and Emergency Services Levy, that should cover the difference.
But hang on, what is the increased revenue being spent on? Referring again to Council’s factsheet ‘in the first year… it is estimated council will raise an additional $1.185 million and this will be spent on infrastructure maintenance and renewal’.
The supposed 2.2 per cent decrease in the residential rate share will attempt to allay any concerns the community may have about the burden of funding infrastructure for 33,000 residents and the 2 million tourists to the shire each year.
A mere 15,300 ratepayers are paying for the community’s infrastructure shortfall, which cannot keep pace with the high impact of tourism in this shire.
According to council, the tourist usage represents 30 per cent% of the demand on the infrastructure budget. For many years residents have tried unsuccessfully to get a bed tax or similar, so that tourists can start paying their fair share for the wear and tear on our infrastructure.
It all comes to nothing, as it’s a state government decision, which it refuses to implement. The majority of tourists to Byron shire now are day trippers, so they wouldn’t contribute to a bed tax.
Why aren’t special dispensations for taxing and/or funds made available by the state government for highly visited tourist areas with a low resident base?
Why isn’t the NSW government diverting the funding that they use to promote tourism in Byron shire into the crucial provision and maintenance of our dilapidated infrastructure?
There is a total lack of vision in resolving this problem. It seems that the buck stops with us as ratepayers.
We cover the shortfall created by the exponential growth of tourism in this shire, which increased by 500,000 people last year.
According to the Government’s Tourism Research Australia website, in 2015 tourists spent over half a billion dollars in Byron Shire.
The council only gets a tiny fraction of this from business rates, in exchange for providing roads, waste removal, water, sewerage, stormwater management etc. Is that fair?
It’s time our state politicians and/or the businesses who benefit directly from tourism, come up with a solution for this problem.
What about an infrastructure fund to keep pace with their incessant promotion of Byron as a destination?
Ratepayers and our local MP Tamara Smith need to pressure the state government for this funding or the burden on ratepayers will keep increasing into the future.
Kathryn McConnochie, Byron Bay