Ballina to push ahead with rate rise for swimming pools

THE Ballina Shire Council will apply for a rate rise to fund much-needed upgrades to the Ballina and Alstonville pools following a decision at last week's Ballina Shire Council meeting.

The rate variation is for a 2.5% increase for 2015/16 and 2016/17 on top of an estimated standard rate pegging increase of 3%.

Under the rate increase, residential properties will pay, on average, an extra $21 in 2015/16, which will increase to $45 in 2016/17 and $46 in 2017/18.

Despite the increase, Ballina Shire Council will have the lowest residential rates out of the six Northern Rivers councils following the Richmond Valley Council's application for a 12.5% rate increase for 2014/16 and a 5.5% increase for the following years.

Even if the rate increase wasn't voted in by councillors, residents would still be forced to fork out $400,000 per year in operating losses for both pools from inefficient and outdated technology, increasing maintenance and water loss.

A Micromex survey found 83% of people in the Ballina Shire were supportive of the upgrades, however that number reduced to 60% when the special rate variation was tied to the upgrades.

Of the 367 written submissions to council regarding the upgrades, 45 were in support and 300 were against - the most common response citing the increase would make rates unaffordable.

An online poll found 70% of the 1,739 respondents were against the rate increase, 11% gave conditional support and 19% were supportive.

Cr David Wright, Cr Keith Williams and Cr Sharon Cadwallader spoke about the need for heated, disability accessible and affordable pools to cater for a wide demographic, including poorer residents, who rely on the pools for recreation and exercise.

Ballina resident Anna Marchment, who lobbied for the pools to be upgraded, said the facilities were considered modern when they were built 40 years ago, but will deteriorate further if not upgraded, costing ratepayers more.

"How many lives have been saved over the past 40 years because of swimming lessons," she said.

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