Local councils have lost significant revenue as a result of the COVID-19 pandemic as it hit local communities with the closure of businesses and loss of jobs.
Responding to the pandemic councils quickly took a range of measures to assist ratepayers and local businesses in managing the fallout. This included deferral of rates for affected residents and businesses, waivers for outdoor dining fees, reduction of rents and leases and food inspection fees. However, this has left significant holes in their budgets with Lismore council having an estimated a decline in revenue of between $1 million and $1.5, Ballina Council has lost $6m, Byron Shire $1.353m and Tweed Shire has lost an estimated $681,000 in revenue.
‘As with all council’s, we had to close many of our facilities in line with the Government’s COVID-19 restrictions,’ said a spokesperson for Lismore City Council.
‘Councillors also had to make many tough decisions during this year’s budget process due to the financial impact of COVID-19. This included permanently closing the Tourist Information Centres at Lismore and Nimbin.’
Similarly Tweed Shire council also had to temporarily close some facilities while increasing the services in some areas. These included increased beach patrols, cleaning of public facilities as well as responding to more complaints from residents.
‘One of the biggest unexpected impacts we have seen on Council services is that complaints have skyrocketed during this time,’ said Chris Cherry, Deputy Mayor, Tweed Shire Council.
‘Complaints re illegal building works, offensive noise, dogs barking etc. You name it, we are being bombarded. Everyone has had so much more time at home and they are often trying to work from home, so they have become more aware of the noise around them and what their neighbours are doing. That has been a very big drain on Council resources.
‘Conversely DA application numbers are through the roof, as everyone has had time to think and plan the changes they want to make to their lives.’
While the complaints about off-lash dogs have increased Ms Cherry told Echonetdaily that illegal camping complaints have ‘nearly disappeared’.
‘The financial impacts on Tweed Council, of having to increase fleet vehicles so that our work crews can practise social distancing and the provision of all of the PPE (personal protective equipment) and social distancing measures in our public facilities along with all the extra cleaning protocols all cost money will have serious impacts on our finances for a considerable time to come.
‘Thankfully our community have been incredibly cooperative and really taken the whole thing seriously. I can’t thank people enough for that.’
Ballina Council has seen a estimated $6m in lost revenue for the 2019/20 financial year, compared to earlier forecasts, ‘primarily from Council’s commercial property portfolio, the community facilities which were closed due to the pandemic and reduced flights to the Ballina – Byron Gateway Airport,’ said a Ballina Council spokesperson.
‘We have tried to avoid reducing our expenditure because we need to stimulate the local economy,’ said Ballina Shire Councillor Keith Williams.
‘However, we have had to trim our project timeline and push some projects back as a result of the COVID-19 impact on our budget.’
As previously reported on Echonetdaily Byron Council have also had to push back a number of projects including upgrades to the Mullumbimby swimming pool.
Some services across all councils have been closed for a period of time in line with public health orders including libraries, swimming pools, community centres, visitor services, playgrounds and picnic areas were closed. However, many are now in the process of opening up again as restrictions are eased.