BALLINA mayor Phillip Silver
BALLINA mayor Phillip Silver

Rate limit has councils pegged

COUNCILS across the Northern Rivers will lose hundreds of thousands of dollars and be forced to cut back on vital services because of a State Government decision to lower the rate pegging limit.

One mayor has even suggested the move has been designed to ‘drive councils into the ground’ and pave the way for amalgamations.

Local Government Minister Barbara Perry this week announced the rate peg for the 2010/11 financial year would be set at 2.6 per cent.

She said it reflected that inflation was down.

But most local councils were banking on a 3pc limit and some were even planning for 3.5pc.

Kyogle mayor Ross Brown said setting the limit at 2.6pc was ‘ridiculous’.

“It will make things difficult. The financial screws just keep on tightening,” he said.

“It is understandable that ratepayers want better services, but that’s just not going to be possible any more.

“A limit of 2.6pc won’t even cover our increased super-annuation costs. Just that is putting us $80,000 in the red.”

Cr Brown said roadworks and cultural projects would be among the first to see cutbacks under an increasingly strained budget.

“I just can’t understand where the Government is coming from,” he said.

“You have to wonder if there is a hidden agenda here, and that could be amalgamation.

“I’m not against amalgamations, but they must be talked about openly, not done in a backdoor way.”

Lismore mayor Jenny Dowell said the 2.6pc limit was ‘very disappointing’ and she has called for the entire process to be abandoned.

“This equates to about $200,000 less than we wereexpecting,” she said.

“It’s a huge difference.

“No other State has a system in which the minister can determine rates.

“It has never been moreurgent for this to be reviewed and for rate pegs to be scrapped.”

Byron Shire Council’s general manager, Graeme Faulkner, said the rate peg was a classic example of cost shifting.

“Rates are a major source of funds we use to build local roads, playgrounds and essential services such as child-care centres,” he said.

Ballina Shire Council will be particularly disadvantaged, mayor Phillip Silver said.

“We have historically been a coastal council with very low rates,” he said.

“So because we’re starting from a low base, it is evenharder for us.

“Councils are so transparent and so accountable to their communities, that I really think they can be trusted to set their own rates.”

Cr Silver has predicted that parks, gardens, roadworks and maintenance across the shire will be affected because of the lower rate peg.

Richmond Valley Council’s general manager, Brian Wilkinson, said the peg would make the budget ‘fairly tight’.

“It will negate our ability to increase and improve services,” he said.

“It’s certainly lower than we expected. But we haven’t applied for a special variation.

“We will work with what we’re given.”

HOW A RATE RISE WILL AFFECT YOU

Lismore City Council has applied to increase rates by 3.51pc above the rate peg limit – a total of 6.11pc.

Ballina Shire Council wants rates increased by 6.6pc.

Byron Shire Council’s increase could be up to 5.08pc.

Richmond Valley Council will not ask for a special variation on the rate peg limit, so it will adhere to the 2.6pc increase.

Kyogle Council has not yet decided on its rate structure.



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