Residents escape rate hike

MAVIS Mohammed did a little dance when The Northern Star told her Richmond Valley Council's rates would not increase beyond the State Government-imposed 2.8% cap in 2011-12.

The council had told the government it wanted to lift its rates by close to 6%, but the Independent Pricing and Regulatory Tribunal yesterday announced it was refusing the council's request – along with a similar request from Byron Shire Council, which wanted to lift its rates by 5.33%.

For Mrs Mohammed, the head of the Casino Residents and Ratepayers' Association, the tribunal's decision follows an extensive community campaign to argue the ratepayers of the Richmond Valley council area could not afford any further rate increases.

In a letter-writing campaign to politicians, the ratepayers' association argued Richmond Valley's high unemployment levels, along with low incomes and large numbers of people on fixed incomes, meant they could not wear a rate increase.

Richmond Valley Mayor Col Sullivan said the council had prepared two budgets to account for the possibility the bigger rate rise might be knocked back.

It meant things such as a major roads project and a plan to beautify the entrances of the council area's towns and villages would have to be scrapped.

Byron Shire Council general manager Graeme Faulkner said it needed higher rates to cover its growing infrastructure bills.

More broadly, Cr Sullivan said costs were rising much faster than rates and the failure of governments to make up funding – particularly in regional areas which had higher infrastructure costs and lower rate bases than metropolitan councils – meant sooner or later councils would start going into debt to maintain basic services.

Local Government Minister Don Page said councils had to meet the tribunal's requirements for higher rate rises and that Byron and Richmond Valley were two of only four to be rejected outright.

Mr Page said the Government was already moving to help councils make up funding shortfalls with an infrastructure backlog review.

Councils would be given help to increase their borrowing capacity to address infrastructure backlogs.



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