While no one is going to admit it publicly, I suspect council is relying on us to not only give our feedback on a proposed 35 per cent rate increase, but to make enough fuss that it surfaces above the general noise surrounding election issues.
That Bega Valley Shire Council is considering a rate increase is hardly surprising given financial issues over the past few years, bushfires, floods, COVID-19 and rising prices of materials.
That it is considering 35 per cent as an appropriate increase in a single year from a community that has also suffered from all of the above, plus stagnating wages and rising cost of living expenses, is shocking.
CEO Anthony McMahon said council's position would be "untenable" without the increase. Many ratepayers may find their positions untenable with the increase.
People in the Bega Valley have grappled with the ongoing effects of COVID on their businesses or their employment. And for our retirees, the rising cost of living on what may be a fixed income, is likely to be tough enough without the sudden and sharp shock a 35 per cent increase in rates.
After questionable reporting on finances, a Morrison Low baseline audit shone a light in some dark corners of council's finances from 2016-19 and emerged in November 2021 with 11 recommendations, many of which related to the tracking and movement of money around the organisation.
As a result council's finances are in better shape from a reporting viewpoint, but sadly not from a financial one. Too bad it didn't take place earlier to allow action to be taken on council's financial direction.
There is no doubt that there has been a shuffling of financial responsibility through the levels of government. The bottom tier of government only has one place to shuffle it on - and that is to us.
Not only is that unacceptable, it's immoral. I would strongly urge anyone speaking to a Federal Government candidate to ask what they are going to do about sustainability of local councils.
The Federal Government is not shy in crowing about how it hands out financial assistance grants to local councils. These grants are vital, untied funds which councils can use for their communities depending on their own priorities.
But while they represented 1.5 per cent of general tax revenue in 1975, they now are only about 0.7 per cent and sharing the general tax love is long overdue.
- Denise Dion, Senior Reporter
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