Editorial: Council push for 30% more in rates

Filed in Feature, Just In by January 29, 2024

FOR years I have warned Council’s inability to set realistic budgets and reining in losses on overblown pet projects will result in ratepayers picking up the tab, well tonight the Upper Hunter Shire Council voted to begin the process of approval for a 30% special rate variation.

But it won’t just be 30% extra on your rates, there will also be the standard rate increases to keep pace with inflation, described by Council as “the natural rate capping increase” which can be an extra 3.7% each year.

Council projects this will increase their rate base from $11 million per year to an extra $2million each year above the “natural rate capping.”

But Council will consult with the community to ask which Satan’s sandwich they’d like to eat:

  1. 7.5% increase, cumulative for 4 years.
  2. 6% increase, cumulative for 6 years.
  3. 10% increase, cumulative for 3 years.

Outlined in Council’s papers under “community affordability” is a rationalisation that Council estimates in some cases it really only equates to an extra $1 per week above the rate cap. But it is also flagged that a new rating class could be introduced whereby some ratepayers will pay less…which means costs will be shifted onto other ratepayers within the Shire. Onto who? Who knows? Here is a link to the business paper where Council voted to “That Council notify IPART of Council’s intention to apply for a Special Rate Variation in
2025/2026” of 30%: January Council meeting, see page 36.

The process to introduce the variation means it may not be implemented until 2025, but the process has now begun.

Cr Campbell said he doesn’t like rate rises but, “I think we’ve got to look past that and those small increments are much, much better.”

Better? Better than what? Not having a rate increase Ron? Better than Council having to do some heavy lifting and make some tough decisions on where they are loosing ratepayer money? Better than Ron and the Councillors who sold ratepayers on overcapitalised projects now bleeding money to fix those projects? Better than demanding a testable business plan and working hard on it?

Cr Campbell continued his insights, “I attended the Tamworth rate variation and they’re looking at 30% and I was, I was, staggered at the large shire like that with a large rating base to increase the rates by that proportion!”

“There’s one thing I did take from that meeting, one particular lady stood up and said, ‘well we have been elected to um to act responsibly and I think this is what we’ve got to look at.”

Cr Lee Watts asked, “How do Council move forward without the rate variation?”

Well, how about, before you go asking ratepayers to pick up the bill for this Council’s misspending and failed business projections, that Councillors take some accountability for the significant losses being incurred by this community!

For the entire term that I have been Councillor I have REPEATEDLY requested a testable business plan for all major projects: the airport and warbird museum project, the saleyards, Campbell’s Corner etc etc. I have been consistently advised staff are working on it and it will be available soon. Right now there is still NO testable business plan! Instead we are given more vacuous motherhood statements about bringing down expenses and magically realising more revenue, with no testable measures. You can’t find viable solutions, if you can’t test the reality. You can’t run your household budget or any business like that, but that is what this Council is doing with ratepayer money.

And the fanciful budget adopted by this Council which included the doubling of cattle through the saleyards and windfalls at the airport, is already off track in only a few months. When I asked how the budget would be corrected, such as bringing down expenses on the saleyards, I was advised the expenses are fixed and nothing can be done. This Council is projected to be in deficit until 2032, going off track now means the budget blowout will only be bigger than projected. That is NOT a solution.

This proposed 30% rate rise is estimated to add another $2million to the annual budget. The current losses on just the airport and saleyards is $2.1million. If Council acted responsibly with the ratepayer money they have and stopped the heamorrhaging of money, we wouldn’t need a rate rise.

But they don’t have a testable plan to stop the heamorrhaging, so instead, you will pay it in extra rates.

I was the only Councillor who voted against the 30% rate rise and still the only Councillor asking for testable business plans.

Who can help? Recently Minister for Local Government, Ron Hoenig assured residents and ratepayers who signed a petition asking for an administrator that, “I will review the updates as provided and take further action if necessary.” So the question now is…when is it “necessary”? Before or after the 30% rate rise?

If you believe it is necessary before you pay 30% rate rise, you can email the Hon., Ron Hoenig here: heffron@parliament.nsw.gov.au. You can also ‘leave a message’ for the Premier to explain a 30% rate increase is not reasonable when Council can’t run the budget they have: Premier Chris Minns.

Kind Regards,

Cr Elizabeth Flaherty

All of the above are my perspectives, opinions and beliefs as a Councillor on the Upper Hunter Shire Council, are my own, which may not (in fact probably don’t) reflect Council’s position, but which as an elected representative I am supported in law to freely express.


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