Rates rises above NSW average

COUNCIL rates and charges across the Northern Rivers have skyrocketed, outstripping average increases in comparable NSW councils, according to a report by the NSW Department of Local Government.

Released yesterday by the Minister of Local Government, Barbara Perry, the report groups similar councils and provides key comparative data for the 2008/09 financial year.

It showed that business rates in Ballina jumped 25.4 per cent from the previous year, compared with an average rise of 2.6pc among similar councils.

Richmond Valley ratepayers faced a 63.77pc increase in fees and charges, compared with the group average of 5.35pc.

And more than one-in-ten ratepayers in Lismore could not afford to pay their annual rates – double the State average and only beaten by drought-affected Armidale-Dumaresq.

Ms Perry said the snapshot of NSW councils was an important ‘tool’ for ratepayers.

“Now in its 19th year, this report allows ratepayers across the State to examine what isgoing on in their local area,” Ms Perry said.

“It provides key information on all councils in NSW and is a great tool for ratepayers and councils.”

According to the report, for the financial year 2008/09 Lismore City Council charged the third-highest residential rates among similar councils, even though 11.2pc of all ratepayers were in arrears.

This is double the State average, and means Lismore rates 11th in NSW for the highest level of outstanding rates.

During a series of community consultations over a proposed rate rise, Lismore general manager Paul O’Sullivan said outstanding rates last year totalled a staggering $1.9 million.

Lismore council finance manager Rino Santin yesterday said the council was reviewing its existing debt recovery procedures after signs that the level of non-payment was still rising.

“As part of the current review increased legal action is to be taken against ratepayers who have not paid their rates, or do not have satisfactory payment arrangements in place,” he said.

“For ratepayers with long-term outstanding rates, the sale of land for unpaid rates, as provided for by the Local Government Act 1993, will also be investigated.”

Mr Santin said Lismore City Council has historically had a higher than average level of outstanding rates.

“The level of outstanding rates can be attributed to factors such as the ability to pay and debt collection practices,” he said.

Across NSW, councils reported $236 million of rates and annual charges of $4.18 billion had not been collected.

The general manager of Richmond Valley Council, Brian Wilkinson, which had the highest increase in charges and fees, said the reason for the hike was due to one-off private works, including the construction of concrete bridges in the shire.

Although not included in the report, the Department of Local Government this year allowed Ballina Council to raise its rates by 3.6pc above the 2.6pc cap, and Lismore to increase its business levy by 0.45pc.

However, Byron council’s application for a 6.98pc increase above the cap was rejected.

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