Bega Valley Shire Council is heading towards a Special Rate Variation (SRV) that could see rates increase on average by $146 a year in order to support the ongoing maintenance costs and ultimate renewal of six pools across the shire.
But it would appear many people are either not aware or not interested in council's pool strategy judging by some of the turn outs at recent pool strategy meetings.
On September 23 just five people attended the Pambula community session, there were 11 at the Eden session on September 17 although 50 attended Cobargo Hall on September 16.
Councillors have agreed to keep the pools at Bega, Bemboka, Candelo, Cobargo, Eden and Pambula. Patronage varies on an average taken from 2016-19 covering the months October to March from 3059 at Bemboka to 54,694 at the Sapphire Aquatic Centre, Pambula.
Pools are considered important in terms of health, social interaction and recreation but the costs are heavy with council subsidising user fees, in some cases to the tune of $17 per visit.
I believe if you are going to consult with the ratepayers who will pay for the SRV then going to just the towns where existing pools are appears to be an attempt to skew the support vote even though unintentional.Michael Britten, Merimbula
Council has said it needs $2.028m a year in addition to revenue generated through fees to cover operating costs, minor asset renewals, facility upgrades costs and facility renewal costs.
It has proposed an SRV and has a calculator on its web page to show how much it would affect individual properties based on current rates and on land values.
Pool strategy meetings are being held in the towns where pools are located. There is no meeting planned for Merimbula or Tura Beach although ratepayers in those two locations will likely be some of the most affected.
There are a raft of other options for people to gain information and provide feedback.Council's general manager Leanne Barnes
In a letter to council's general manager Leanne Barnes, local businessman Michael Britten raised this issue.
"I believe if you are going to consult with the ratepayers who will pay for the SRV then going to just the towns where existing pools are appears to be an attempt to skew the support vote even though unintentional," Mr Britten wrote.
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"To consult properly you need to consult with the ratepayers affected who tend to reside in areas without actual pool locations and have the greatest concentration of ad valorem ratepayers (depending how you intend to structure the levy)."
However Ms Barnes said there were to be six meetings "and there are a raft of other options for people to gain information and provide feedback".
Council has just put its draft community engagement strategy on exhibition in which it commits to:
- encourage the community to understand, be understood and learn from each other through a productive and inclusive exchange of views
- ensure that people receive information that is timely, free of bias and easy to access
- be transparent, strengthen relationships and build mutual respect through ongoing engagement activities
- be open and responsive to community views
- articulate our commitments and deliver on these
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Whatever happens with the SRV (which will have to go to IPART for approval) rates will increase by 2.6 per cent, the rate peg for 2020/21.
The last two pool strategy meetings will be at the Bega Civic Centre on Monday, September 30 and Candelo Hall, Wednesday, October 2 starting at 5.30pm. Alternatively people should visit council's website and look at the Swimming Pools Strategy under Major Projects.