Plan for rate lift opposed

PLANS to lift residential rates in Lismore to boost the city's marketing and events budget have come under fire.

The five-member Lismore Business Promotion Panel voted last Monday to propose a residential special rate variation of $6 per year from July.

Council's representative on the panel, Cr Isaac Smith, said the $100,000 obtained from the extra charge on some 17,000 ratepayers would extend the reach of Lismore's Come to the Heart project.

The project is responsible for some of the city's key marketing initiatives, provides funding support for Lismore's event calendar, and will launch an online business directory next month.

"The Lismore Come to the Heart has been really successful... there's so many things there that are making Lismore a better place to live," Cr Smith said.

"We want to build on that by giving it more resources... the benefit is for all of Lismore, so we're keen to see if all of Lismore is willing to chip in to continue the program and have it improve."

But Cr Gianpiero Battista said yesterday the budget increase would put more pressure on already struggling residential ratepayers.

"It's not much... but we already have a high percentage of people who can't pay rates, and there's more every year," Cr Battista said.

Lismore LGA has been revealed as the worst council for outstanding rates in its group of 30 similar NSW councils, with an average of 10.5% of rates outstanding. Average residential rates in 2010/11 were $950 in Lismore, versus $670 in Ballina and $590 in Richmond Valley.

Lismore Chamber of Commerce president David Martin said the business community did not support the rate hike, and that the chamber's representative on the panel would be withdrawing his vote for the measure.

"We're disappointed that council would use a small group of five people, hand-selected by council, to justify trying to increase a rate across the general public," Mr Martin said.

"What businesses are looking for is better use of the high rates already being paid."

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