16 February 2023

Bega, Snowy and Queanbeyan-Palerang residents brace for council rate hikes

| Katrina Condie
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Queanbeyan-Palerang Regional Council will to apply to the Independent Pricing and Regulatory Tribunal (IPART) for a permanent special rate variation. Photo: Queanbeyan-Palerang Regional Council.

Ratepayers in the Bega Valley and Snowy Monaro areas are bracing for possible rate hikes of up to 53 per cent from 1 July.

The regional councils are among 13 from across New South Wales that have already applied to the Independent Pricing and Regulatory Tribunal (IPART) for a special rate variation (SRV) to increase their income from rates above the rate peg.

After seeking an extension to consider its options, Queanbeyan-Palerang Regional Council last week also voted to apply for a cumulative rate increase totalling 64 per cent.

Each year IPART decides a rate peg for each council in NSW which sets the maximum amount councils can increase the revenue they collect from rates. Councils must seek IPART approval to increase their rates revenue by more than the rate peg.

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Bega Valley Shire Council has applied for a 48.3 per cent hike over two years, with a 24 per cent increase proposed for 2023-24, followed by a 19.6 increase in 2024-25.

Junee Shire Council has requested a 32.19 per cent increase over two years, with a 17.5 per cent hike in 2023-24 and 12.5 per cent in 2024-25.

Snowy Monaro Regional Council is seeking a massive 53 per cent increase over one year in 2023-24.

Queanbeyan-Palerang will apply for a permanent special rate variation of 18 per cent each year for three years. That’s a cumulative increase of 64 per cent.

IPART Tribunal Chair Carmel Donnelly said some councils had applied for large increases in rates above the rate peg through special variations.

“We always conduct a feedback process where the community can have its say on the applications,” Ms Donnelly said.

“IPART welcomes all input from residents about a council’s application for a SRV and is accepting submissions until 3 March.”

The standard rate peg for 2023-24 has been set at 3.7 per cent across the state. There is also an allowance for the level of population growth, meaning some councils will have rate pegs up to 6.8 per cent.

“We will assess applications against the criteria established by the Office of Local Government, which require councils to demonstrate the need for the additional revenue, evidence of community consultation and an assessment of the impact on affected ratepayers,” Ms Donnelly added.

A final decision on the councils’ special rate variation applications will be announced in May 2023, with the changes to come into effect from 1 July, if approved.

Queanbeyan-Palerang Mayor Kenrick Winchester said it was “just not possible” for all council services to be retained without the proposed rate rise in his region.

“Council decided to apply for an SRV of 18 per cent each year for three years which will be a cumulative permanent increase of 64 per cent,” Cr Winchester explained.

“This has been an extraordinarily difficult decision for council, and we appreciate the time and effort the community has made to tell us about the services that are important to them and their thoughts on the proposed rate rise.”

He said to do nothing would “slowly condemn council into a period of administration”, where an unelected political appointee could not only introduce an SRV, but would also make every decision of council for an indefinite period of time.

Councillors made the decision to proceed with the application based on more than 1100 community submissions, while also trying to ensure council’s financial future.

“While the cumulative rates increase of 97 per cent over three years would have allowed us to keep all council services and make improvements, we understand the financial pressure our community is under with cost-of-living increases,” Cr Winchester said.

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“We recognise that the rate rise is a significant increase in the general rates, but it also requires council to look internally and bear some of the burden.

“This rate increase will allow us to maintain our core services, and we will need to find savings of $5.5 million each year to remain financially viable.

“This means that we won’t be able to do everything we might like to over the next few years and we will need to consider a range of savings options.”

In the Snowy region, service delivery costs have increased significantly and the additional funds will inject an additional $64.3 million into asset renewal, to stabilise the current infrastructure backlog and to undertake additional maintenance of roads and other community assets.

If the SRV is not approved, Snowy Monaro Regional Council will need to implement service level reductions totalling $28.8 million over the next 10 years.

Councillor Lynda Summers said there was “no easy path” in making the decision to increase rates.

“It’s a simple matter of budgeting … we either invest in our community assets with rates and the services that are being screamed for, or we don’t, and then something has to give,” she said.

The councils’ SRV applications are available for review on IPART’s website. The website also has information about how to lodge a submission.

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Damien Rogers1:02 pm 22 Feb 23

The option never mentioned is to give back councils to local communities. Current councils are basically run by the State governments, but originally they were run (very cheaply and efficiently) by just the local communities themselves, employing just a handful of people and contracting out virtually all functions. Local Councils now employ many hundreds of employees who do little more than force State social engineering projects onto local communities, using up virtually all rates money on maintaining these massive bureaucracies instead of the basic services we need. Thats why councils now cheakily call themselves ‘grants machines’ because they now rely on State and Federal grants to provide these services after blowing our rates monies on themselves.

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