Residents snub rate hike forums

DO BALLINA ratepayers really care they could be slugged with a $50 to $60 increase on the average home rate for the next five years?

Of a shire population of 42,000 people, a total of only 40 attended two community consultation meetings arranged by Ballina Shire Council to explain the council’s application for a Special Rate Variation of 7.4 per cent for the coming financial year.

However, it was a totally different story in Lismore earlier in the year when the community consultation meetings were chockers, and the city’s council ended up not going ahead with a proposed special rate variation.

East Ballina resident and council watcher, Vince Kelly, attended both meetings in Ballina Shire on the proposed special rate rise.

He wasn’t surprised with the turn-out, saying there was apathy in the community in regards to council consultation.

“You never get a strong turn-out,” he said.

“Council can interpret that as ‘no opposition’ or ‘everyone must be in favour’.

“But the general public gets frustrated and thinks ‘as an individual, I’m not going to make a difference’.

“Across the community, there is a large apathetic view of local government.”

Mr Kelly said council had a ‘responsibility to engage the community’, and praised the amount of material council placed on its website and the online surveys, particularly the one currently being conducted for the special rate variation.

But he said the big difference between Ballina and Lismore was that Lismore City Council sent a letter to ratepayers more than a month before the rates consultation process began, whereas letters to Ballina ratepayers were sent out the week before the workshops.

Ballina Shire Council general manager Paul Hickey said the council had found from other issues where public meetings and online surveys had been conducted that there was a greater response to the online surveys.

“It’s a more efficient way for people to provide council with a response,” he said.

Mr Hickey said the letter and brochure sent to ratepayers was scheduled to be mailed earlier than it was, but there had been a delay in the issuing of material from the printer, and he apologised on council’s behalf.

Meanwhile, Mr Hickey said the $3.2 million that would be earned from the special rate variation was necessary to keep on top of council’s current and future capital works program.

He said less than half of council’s $8 million operating surplus – which excludes depreciation – could be spent on infrastructure like roads, drainage, footpaths, parks and new or replacement community facilities. The balance of the surplus was generated from water, sewerage and waste operations, and was directed back to those areas.

The funds available for roads was a problem, with Mr Hickey saying council’s engineers had reported annual spending on roads was already $2.5 million behind what they would like to ensure the road network was at an acceptable level.

He said 62 per cent of the extra rate income, if approved by council and then the Minister for Local Government, would be spent on roads around the shire, both new roads and reconstruction of the existing network.

A $530,000 roundabout at the Tamar and Cherry street intersection and a $1.4 million roundabout at the entrance to the Boulder Beach car park from The Coast Road are some of the major new projects that have been earmarked for construction in the next five years.

Mr Hickey said that if the rate rise wasn’t approved, council may have to defer major works, which could possibly affect big projects already earmarked for late in the 20-year road plan, like the Western Arterial Road linking West Ballina to the Southern Cross industrial area, and the extension of North Creek Road from Lennox Head to the same industrial area.

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