Ratepayers in the Ballina Shire can expect slightly higher bills for council services and infrastructure maintenance after approval from the Independent Pricing and Regulatory Tribunal [IPART].
The council is allowed to increase rates by two per cent in the coming financial year ending June 2023.
Rates are reviewed annually and this year most local governments across NSW were only allowed to increase rates by 0.7% in accordance with rules from the Office of Local Government.
IPART said it had made exceptions made for some council areas deemed to have increased populations.
But the tribunal said in a media statement this week the calculation had been made during more positive economic times.
Inflation threatens council projects
‘The latest rate peg was determined in the low inflation environment at the beginning of the COVID-19 pandemic,’ Tribunal member Deborah Cope was quoted as saying in the media release.
‘Since then, high inflation and global uncertainty increased councils’ costs,’ Ms Cope said.
‘Some councils have demonstrated that without additional funds they will not be able to deliver the projects they have already consulted on and included in their budgets.’
IPART said its members then carried out a special variation process, assessing applications from councils against guidelines from the Office of Local Government.
‘The guidelines require councils to show that they had budgeted for higher income than that provided by the rate peg and that they need the additional money to deliver on the projects they have already planned and included in their budgets,’ IPART said in its statement.
Clarence Valley ratepayers face maximum allowed increase
Applications from eighty-six local governments were approved, resulting in approval of ‘modest increases for councils’ of between 1.6% and 2.5%, IPART said.
The increases included the original figure of 0.7%, meaning there weren’t any councils in the state allowed to impose increases of more than 2.5%.
‘We were careful to balance the need of councils to maintain the services and investment they had already committed to against the need to keep rates affordable for the community,’ Ms Cope said.
On the Northern Rivers, the Clarence Valley Shire Council was approved to increase rates by the maximum permitted increase of 2.5% while the Ballina Shire Council was approved for an increase of two per cent.
Flood impacted ratepayers in both local government areas were, however, able to apply for reimbursement of their rates from the NSW government under a recently announced flood recovery response funding scheme.
IPART said it was reviewing the rate peg methodology in NSW to deal with what it called ‘volatility’ in economic conditions.
Local government representatives in recent years have expressed concern over the way rates are determined, with councils in tourist hot-spots, such as the Northern Rivers, effectively disadvantaged under calculations that ignore impacts of visitors on local infrastructure, despite significant increases in the numbers of dwellings used for holiday accomodation.
The tribunal said its review would also look at the timing of the calculations in a ‘fast-changing economic climate’.
The Echo has asked Ballina Mayor Sharon Cadwallader for comment.