Council may limit rate hike

THE financial burden on Ballina Shire residents could be eased slightly with councillors set to consider a smaller than planned special rate hike.

However it would leave the council with $120,000 less every year.

That would affect the operating budget of important facilities such as the Lennox Head Community Centre and the Northern Rivers Community Gallery.

The council’s general manager, Paul Hickey, said funding would also be cut in the street tree-planting program, the sustainability fund, and the budget for open spaces.

He said the plan was for a 6.2 per cent special rate variation instead of 7.4pc.

“That’s based on the nature of submissions we received,” he said. “We’ve had 323 responses to the online survey and 182 submissions.

“Now it’s really a matter for councillors to decide.

“But it will leave the council with, on average, about $120,000 less every year.”

Mayor Phillip Silver would not say whether he supported the 6.2pc special rate variation.

“I want to hear the debate at today’s council meeting first,” he said.

Fred Goodman, president of the Lennox Head Residents’ Association, wants the council to reduce the rate variation even further.

“It’s still a lot for people to pay,” he said.

“The major defect is that it’s a compounding increase.

“In Lennox Head, we already pay the highest rates in the shire because the value of the land is higher than in most other parts of the shire.

“It’s nonsense to talk about the average, because we pay above the average.

“People who own land of the highest value could be paying more than $1000 on top of what they pay now.

“It’s a very inequitable system. Some of these highly-valued properties are owned by people who have lived here for 30 or 40 years.

“They didn’t pay a large amount for their properties, but the cost of keeping them is becoming exorbitant.

“A further rate rise will make it very, very difficult for some people.

“I guess I put myself in that position. Our land is very highly valued.

“Our block of land has been in the family since 1937, yet the rates are becoming a real burden.”

Council watcher and East Ballina resident, Vince Kelly, said the increase being now being proposed would equ- ate to a 38pc increase over five years.

“It’s only a marginal decrease. Before it was about 43pc,” he said.

“My belief is that the council staff has ignored the consultation process.

“As a result of the consultation done by Lismore City Council they decided against a special rate variation altogether.

“In Ballina the community consultation meetings were biased towards the special rate variation in both the council’s presentation and facilitation.

“The council staff and councillors did not approach the consultation process in an objective manner.

“This community wasn’t asked whether they wanted a lesser rate rise. It’s come out of the blue.”

However, Ballina Chamber of Commerce executive officer, Nadia Eliott-Burgess, said some form of rate hike was necessary.

“People are griping about rate rises, but we have some really crucial infrastructure problems,” she said.

“The community must understand the council needs the funds to deal with it.

“But the council must make good on its promises if it wants the community to foot the bill.”

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