Cost of democracy doubles
By RACHEL AFFLICK
THE PRICE of democracy has escalated, in what the NSW Local Government and Shires' Associations have called an act of 'brazen cost-shifting' by the State Government.
The budget for next year's council elections across the Northern Rivers has blown out by more than half a million dollars and upgrades to local footpaths, roads and parks could be dropped to accommodate the bill.
The NSW Electoral Commission has written to local councils with indicative costings for the 2008 local government elections.
In most cases, Northern Rivers councils have been hit with bills of more than double that of 2004.
To hold its election, Ballina Shire Council will be forced to pay the State Government $200,000, up from $85,000 in 2004.
Lismore has been slugged with a $205,000 bill, up from $103,000. Kyogle's bill has more than doubled from $22,000 to $45,000; while Richmond Valley Council will pay $104,000 up from $68,000. Byron Shire Council was still seeking information on its costings.
Northern Rivers Regional Organisation of Councils (NOROC) president Cr Ernie Bennett yesterday described the cost increases as 'another blow to ratepayers'.
"Ratepayers are already suffering from poor services. That money would do many new kilometres of footpaths, or provide many new sporting facilities," he said.
Cr Bennett said the amounts had been determined by a figure of $7.14 per voter, and included a charge of $195 per hour for staff members. "Many of us would love to be able to collect that sort of money," Cr Bennett said.
He said NOROC would be calling on the State Government to explain the charges.
NOROC also wanted to know if there was an opportunity for the State to fund the elections, such as out of its Treasurer's Advance, he said.
"The Government says councils are limited to a 3.4 per cent rate increase, and out of this they have to take on this big increase to hold the election. Ultimately it means we lose the ability to provide services," Cr Bennett said.
The Ballina and Lismore councils indicated they would be forced to source the money from spending on services and infrastructure.
Upgrades to roads, parks, footpaths, sporting facilities and community services would be the first hit, they warned.