Casino ratepayers demand council?s head over planned 58 per cent rise

By Alex Easton

CASINO ratepayers will next week ask the State Government to sack Richmond Valley Council and replace it with an administrator.

Ratepayers and Residents' Association president Owen Crawford and association past president Pam Brayley will meet Department of Local Government officials in Sydney next Thursday. Mr Crawford said he would argue against a proposed 58 per cent rate increase and urge the council's sacking.

Richmond Valley Council general manager Brian Wilkinson told residents at an association meeting this week services would be cut if the rate rise did not go ahead.

Mr Crawford praised Mr Wilkinson and other senior staff for fronting the meeting, and acknowledged the council had slashed about $100 off a planned $128 sewerage rate rise.

However, he rejected Mr Wilkinson's explanation for the rise ? that the rate base was too low ? saying bad decisions such as the sale of the Casino Airport to the CMCA and the sale of the old Casino council chambers building had put the council in its current position.

"The council would have this money ... if it had sold these things for the correct price, and the money owing to council been paid upfront instead of offering interest-free terms," he said.

Mr Crawford said the council should abandon projects such as the Casino CBD upgrade and scale back its operations to focus on 'maintenance only'.

Mayor Charlie Cox and Mr Wilkinson rejected those suggestions, with Cr Cox describing the council as a responsible group trying to do the best it could with the resources and problems inherited from the old Richmond River Council.

Mr Wilkinson said the council chambers had been sold at market rate and that the money was received upfront. The decision to sell land to the CMCA was taken when Casino was in an economic slump and when the aerodrome was costing $100,000 a year to run, with no return to the council.

Selling land cheaply to the CMCA was seen as a good way to remove a cost, while encouraging a development that would boost Casino's economy. The CMCA development had done precisely that, proving the wisdom of the initial decision, he said.

Cr Cox said the association was entitled to meet the Minister, but added he would 'strongly defend council against any implication of bad management'.

The council had just been reviewed by the Government and the results, although not released, would be known to Mr Lynch.

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