Snowy Monaro residents have been presented with four rate increase and service reduction scenarios in an effort to bring the council’s books back into the black.
The council will ask the Independent Pricing and Regulatory Tribunal for a special rate variation (SRV) following community consultation on its draft Integrated Planning and Reporting document.
At a recent council meeting councillor Lynda Summers said an “enormous amount of work” had been undertaken to put these options together for the public to consider.
“There’s no easy path in making these decisions,” she said.
“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.
“If we do nothing then the roads will continue to deteriorate, the community assets owned by ratepayers will continue to deteriorate. [But] then we also have options for everyone to invest in our community to ensure those assets are maintained.”
Cr Summers blamed the “poor amalgamation” of the Bombala, Cooma-Monaro and Snowy River Councils in 2017 for the situation the new council now found itself in.
“Poor decisions were made then, failure to make hard decisions between then and now, and now we’re stuck with it,” she said.
“It’s [also] attributed to a poor structural issue between us, the state government and the federal government, with consistent reduction in things like state grants, and it ends up in us finding it very, very difficult to make ends meet, particularly when we have such huge infrastructure in terms of roads and limited income.
“We may get some windfalls on the way, depending on the political news of the day, but it’s certainly not something we can rely on.”
The options put to the public are:
- $4.20 weekly increase in rates by reducing: biosecurity services by 40 per cent; building/development assessments (minimum regulatory role, no assistance); rangers only work during the week and only respond to extreme issues on weekends; minimal response to illegal dumping; close some community facilities; reduce library operating days; reduce park areas by 30 per cent; reduce front counter services to be available in Cooma only; cease any economic development or tourism/events activities and support; minimal strategic planning; move out of residential aged care services
- $16 weekly increase by investing in current services: fund road reseal every 15 years on average; fund gravel sheeting for roads every eight years on average; gravel maintenance grade every year on average; introduce program to renew buildings over time; increase maintenance funding; move out of residential aged care services
- $7.70 weekly increase by partially reducing: building/development assessments (minimum regulatory role, no assistance); rangers only work during the week and only respond to extreme issues on the weekend; close some community facilities; reduce front counter services to be available in Cooma only; don’t undertake any tourism activities; move out of residential aged care services
- $9.40 weekly increase with a small service reduction; don’t undertake any tourism activities; move out of residential aged care services
Councillor Bob Stewart was against the larger rate increases being put to the public and argued the council should wait until an audit examining the council’s efficiency was completed.
“[These increases] will be significant and I believe we should probably wait [for the audit results] to see where our inefficiencies are,” he said.
“We were led to believe by the amalgamation of the three councils that we could deliver a lot better service at a cheaper cost to these communities, which unfortunately I don’t believe has eventuated.”
He also wanted to put more pressure on the state government for financial support “until this merger settles down”.
“Many people out there are finding it quite difficult to meet all their charges these days,” Cr Stewart said.
However other councillors argued all options should be presented to the public to give them an understanding of every option.
“It gives the community the chance to consider, ok, what are the pros and cons of the potential financial and social impacts in terms of service provision and long-term financial stability,” Councillor John Castellari said.
“None of these are binding.”
Mayor Narelle Davis acknowledged while the choices were difficult, they were essential to keep the region moving forward.
“If we don’t have this discussion we will continue to have what we’ve always got, and that is a difficult financial situation and not actually providing the services we want to provide to this community,” she said.
Council outlined ways it had been improving its financial position by reducing costs by $5 million over the past three years. This included cutting management costs by $700,000, reducing staffing costs by $2 million and reducing photocopying costs by $200,000.
The Snowy Monaro community has been urged to have its say on the Integrated Planning and Reporting documents, with consultation closing on 6 June.
The council will consider all consultation, with a decision expected to be made by 23 June.