THE vote to apply for a special variation (SV) general rates increase passed yesterday afternoon, but it was a close thing.
Bega Valley Shire councillors voted 5-4 in favour of applying for the three one-off rate variations above the 3.4 per cent rate peg determined by the Independent Pricing and Regulatory Tribunal (IPART) - one per year for the next three years.
The council will now request a new two per cent SV in 2013/4 in order to service collector roads, retain an expiring 2.4 per cent increase in 2014/15 for possible debt servicing or recreation asset renewals, and a new two per cent increase in 2015/16 for public infrastructure renewal.
If approved, overall the increases are likely to raise the council’s income by $1.35million over the three years.
Against the motion were Deputy Mayor Russell Fitzpatrick - who tabled a foreshadowed motion that council instead review its long-term financial plan before reconsidering any application to IPART – and councillors Sharon Tapscott, Keith Hughes and Kristy McBain.
Their objections to the motion to apply for the SV increases revolved around questioning residents’ capacity to pay, financial hardship experienced by older ratepayers and potential increases in water and sewerage charges on top of the general rates lift.
“Whether we consider water and sewerage as separate items is beside the point for me,” Cr Fitzpatrick said.
“Whether we like it or not they still amount to one bill that our ratepayers receive and they are lumped in with the rates.”
Mayor Bill Taylor later responded to those objections by asking why it was the council that is always asked to wear the burden of rising costs of living.
He referred to electricity price hikes and retailers passing on increased costs to consumers.
“We have a statutory and moral obligation to provide services, but local government is the only organisation in the country that has to ask for permission to do so,” Cr Taylor said.
“Why does it come down to local government to wear the burden of cost of living increases.”
Cr Taylor also highlighted the lack of “real opposition to this [SV increase application] based on fact”.
“And saying ‘we don’t want to pay’ is not based on fact,” he said.
Public workshops held in the shire’s four main centres late last month were poorly attended and Cr Taylor pointed out only 30 formal written submissions were received during the public presentation period.
Of those, all but two came from the Merimbula and Pambula areas.
Cr Tapscott argued that although the council was in receipt of only a few letters in opposition, “they are indicative of a great proportion of the community”.
Cr Taylor countered by saying no-one had stopped him in the street to discuss the issue.
“In my experience, it’s not a live issue out there and I think we have to take into account there has been very little reaction,” Cr Taylor said.
* Minutes of the extraordinary meeting - including the complete wording of the resolution - are available on the BVSC website by clicking here.