Bega Valley Shire Council has put its suite of financial and planning documents including its budget for the coming financial year and Long Term Financial Plan (LTFP) on exhibition.
In doing so council has made it clear that its preferred option for financial sustainability is to apply a 35 per cent rate increase from July 2023 through a special rate variation (SRV). However in order to do so it will have to seek approval from the Independent Pricing and Regulatory Tribunal (IPART) and will have to show that it has consulted with its community.
As and when council applies to IPART for an SRV, there will be an exhibition period with a further opportunity to give feedback.
In the meantime council will hold community consultation and review the feedback at a meeting in June before it decides on the size of the SRV.
Both the CEO Anthony McMahon and the mayor Russell Fitzpatrick stressed that it wasn't locked in and urged the community to read the documents and meet with councillors and staff at the planned consultation days around the shire.
"The intent is to signal to the community that there are three options and they are not locked in," Mr McMahon said.
He reiterated to councillors that the options were to maintain the current situation with respect to revenue which would make council "untenable", maintain current levels of service (scenario 2 35 per cent rate increase) or a third model (at unrevealed cost to ratepayers at this stage) which would allow more work to take place.
"If council decided it wanted to consider hybrid models then we can consider that," he added.
Cr Fitzpatrick said many regional councils were facing the same problem which was they were becoming unsustainable and running out of money. He said it was a choice between higher rates or less services.
"We looking at a loss of $9.5m in the general fund, transport costs are 40 per cent higher than they were six months ago and 35 per cent is about where every other industry is. We're expected to take on more services as well," Cr Fitzpatrick said.
"However, unless our financial position significantly improves over the longer term, the value of our cash and investments will continue to decline, services will continue to be reduced and assets will not be renewed in the timeframes the community expects.
"Our shire is one of the largest local government areas in coastal NSW based on land mass and we have more assets per capita than most other local government areas. With a small population, the revenue we raise through rates and charges is not enough to cover the costs of our operations.
"We are about to start a very frank and honest conversation with the community about what this means.
"Instead of hopping on social media and saying council is useless, go and look at the documents. Local government can't build infrastructure under the current funding and then we have to depreciate and depreciation alone can take up all rates. I challenge people to pick up these documents and read them."
Cr Fitzpatrick said while he felt for those on low incomes, sometimes they had to make tough decisions.
"I will be at all meetings - we're going out transparently and saying what we need," he said.
But Cr Helen O'Neil said she had been shocked when she first saw the figure of 35 per cent as a rate increase.
"In my view 35 per cent is not cut and dried We are facing a cashflow crisis but I don't know that 35 per cent is right," she said.
Cr O'Neil suggested that council also look at further work on reducing services, saving money to reduce the impact of higher rates.
"It's not fair that it hits ratepayers in regional areas; here we are doing our best to be financial responsibility to provide libraries, roads etc. The cut (in Financial Assistance Grant from the Federal Government) in that notorious 2013/14 budget, the (current) Federal Government could have restored it instead of putting the burden of some of the most disadvantaged communities," Cr O'Neil said.
"Community consultation is absolutely vital when we set the path in June. The decisions here are tougher than I thought they would be. We urgently need the Financial Assistance Grants to be increased as a matter of social justice," she added.
Cr Mitchell Nadin said the financial team had put together the best information so that they could confidently go to there community.
"Here's the data, if you want to maintain this level of service this is what it will cost," Cr Nadin said.
"Councils in NSW are not sustainable and IPART is broke. We've been going backwards since 2016. I want to be out there listening. Just because we have put this forward as our preferred model, it doesn't mean it can't change," he said.
See council's financial documents here.
The draft Community Strategic Plan 2042, Draft Delivery Program 2022-25 and Operational Plan 2022-23, draft Resourcing Strategy 2022-25 and draft Fees and Charges 2022-23 are on public exhibition from 4 May to 1 June.
Hard copies can be viewed at Council's Zingel Place office and at Council libraries in Bermagui, Bega, Tura Marrang and Eden.
Councillors and senior council staff will also be at local markets and community days this month to gather feedback on these future plans.
Councillors in the Community schedule
Submissions to draft documents are invited and all submissions received during the exhibition period will be considered by Council before the documents are adopted.
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