Ballina wins rate rise

THE State Government has agreed to let Ballina Shire Council lift its rates beyond the official limit, but has rejected Byron Shire’s request to do the same.

Local Government Minister Barbara Perry yesterday rel-eased the result of the Government’s deliberations on rate increase requests, approving increases for Ballina and Lismore beyond the 2.6 per cent allowable increase.

Lismore City Council decided against applying for an increase on top of the 2.6 per cent cap after the idea was slammed during community consultation.

However, it did apply to increase its Special Business Rate Variation Levy to fund a major campaign promoting businesses within the city and promoting the city as the ‘regional hub’.

Mayor Jenny Dowell said a 0.45 per cent hike allowed for Lismore was for the increase to the business levy.

Byron Shire mayor Jan Barham said the Minister’s decision to refuse the council’s request for a 6.98 per cent increase above the cap would cost the shire about $1 million.

Cr Barham said councillors would now have to meet to cut programs and services from the council’s budget.

It was not clear yesterday what would go, but first on the chopping block could be the council’s grants to community groups, which had been deferred while councillors waited for a decision on the rate increase.

Cr Barham said the rate increase would have cost ratepayers about $1.30 per week each, but would have had a major impact on services.

Ballina Shire Council general manager Paul Hickey said councillors there had ended up going for a smaller increase than the 4.8 per cent originally advertised. The approved increase of 3.6 per cent above the cap would be used for capital works projects such as roads and bike paths, and community buildings such as work on libraries, public toilets and the Ballina swimming pool, he said.

Richmond Valley did notapply for an extra increase and Kyogle withdrew its application.

Kyogle mayor Ross Brown said the council had wanted to increase its drainage levy to fix drainage problems across the local government area.

However, to apply for the grant it would have had to change from a flat $25 charge (increasing to $50) to a weighted system that would have had some residents paying $30 and others paying $400, he said.

Ms Perry said this year was the first councils had been required to come up with long-term financial and asset management plans to justify their extra rate increases.

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