Lismores rates nightmare

NEARLY twice the number of Lismore’s residents are having difficulty paying their rates as those in comparable council areas, according to a State Government report.

Ballina’s residents are finding it only slightly easier to pay on time, with those in Byron and Richmond Valley not encountering significant financial problems.

“Things are tough,” president of the Alstonville and District Citizens Ratepayers Association, Bob Wilson, said.

“We have gone through the worst recession we have seen for a long time and it will take a while to get back on our feet.

“We also have a lot of self-funded retirees here and they have lost a lot on superannuation.”

Both Lismore and Ballina councils have recently announced they would apply for higher rate raises than the annual 3.5 per cent State Government peg.

Lismore and Ballina councils are considering raising rates next year by an additional 6.7pc (not including fees and charges).

Mr Wilson said he understood the problem cash-strapped councils faced, but said community consultation was needed before rates were raised any higher.

But the Local Government report suggests many residents can not afford current rates.

It found that in the 2007/08 financial year, 10.89pc of Lismore residents had outstanding rates and charges, 8.83pc in Ballina, 4.87pc in Bryon and 3.63pc in Richmond Valley.

The average for 33 NSW councils of similar size was 5.87pc. The State Government considers anything over 10pc as a problem.

All councils reported an improvement in collecting their rates over the previous year, except Lismore, which rose from 10.23pc.

Southern Cross University adjunct professor in economics Lawson Savery said Lismore’s growing rate delinquency was because of the lack of full-time jobs in the area.

He said while job numbers may have officially grown in the Northern Rivers, many of these are casual and for minimal hours.

“The consequence is that even if people are lucky enough to have a job, they are lowly paid,” he said.

He warned that the problem would only get worse in the future and could became a self-perpetuating downward spiral, with councils unable to raise funds to pay for basic infrastructure leading to a reduction in jobs growth, which in turn would once again drain council coffers.

As previously reported, Lismore charged the highest average residential rates in 2007/08 ($865), followed by Byron ($783), Ballina ($598), and Richmond Valley ($514), compared with the comparable council average was $719.70.

However, this only reveals part of the story confronting ratepayers.

The report found user charges and fees, such as pool fees, in Lismore rose 10.63pc in 2007/08, after a 23pc jump the previous year, and 17pc the year before that.

“A lot of people here live below the poverty line,” Mr Wilson said.

“It’s hard for them to cough up the money council is asking for.”

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