24% RATE HIKE: ‘We don’t know what else we can do’
LISMORE ratepayers will have to find extra money to fork out for higher rates, after council voted to support one of the "hardest decisions" ever made.
After lengthy debate over whether Lismore City Council should increase its rates to assist the budget and cover costs of its road project backlog, the council voted in favour to submit a Special Rate Variation (SRV) to IPART.
Five of the eight councillors present in chambers on Tuesday voted to support a staggered increase of 7.5, 9.4, 3.9 and 3.2 per cent increases over four years.
Part of the motion also included a clause that council staff would need to alert council monthly on how it was tracking expenditure and progress against the SRV and other roads funds to ensure greater accountability moving forward.
Emotions were running high as councillors, and members in the public gallery, debated the proposed increase.
Mayor Isaac Smith, who put forward the rate increase motion, said the decision to increase rates over four years was the council's last resort to ensure the future of Lismore was viable.
"We don't know what else we can do," Cr Smith said.
"We have done it all, we might not have communicated it that well to the community, but we've done it all.
"I do not want to see our community lose vital assists. We are the sporting hub of regional NSW.
"It's hard to maintain the budgets when a community wants these facilities.
Cr Smith said if IPART approves the application to increase council's rates plan then there will be a chance the LGA can become vibrant again.
"For the first time since world war two this council can maintain a $1 billion road network," he said.
"It's my hope IPART give us the money so we can invest in our future."
Deputy Mayor Darlene Cook said she supported the decision because it was council's job to ensure future generations were sustainable.
"It's probably the hardest decision we've had to make in this term of council," Cr Cook said.
"We've delayed applying for more funds for at least eight years, we can't delay any further.
"We cannot let this situation be a burden to the next council, we have to shoulder this responsibility.
"We have to meet the expectations of our community and they've told us again and again that roads are their priority."
But Cr Gianpiero Battista said that an SRV was the wrong move, and even went as far as suggest council vote to not raise the rates because of past mistakes when council "raided" the roads maintenance budget for other projects.
"For the life of me, after a flood where a community has just started to rebuild, we get hit by fire and a drought and you have no consideration for those factors," Cr Battista said.
"You really have to build the trust over years of delivery within the budget and delivery within timeframes and delivery of not
"This operational budget has gained nothing over five years. It's been raided over the years."
IPART is expected to make its decision about the Lismore SRV in May, 2020.
Councillor Greg Bennett and Adam Guise were absent from Tuesday's meeting, as well as Cr Eddie Lloyd who had been granted pre-approved leave.