9 April 2024

Proposed rates hike likely to dominate Goulburn poll

| John Thistleton
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two local council officials

In September 2023, Deputy Mayor Steve Ruddell and Mayor Peter Walker were returned to their positions, but one will be missing after the polls this coming September, after fallout from disgruntled ratepayers. Photo: Goulburn Mulwaree Council.

Two Goulburn Mulwaree councillors will step down after the September local government elections, which are expected to focus on the council’s decision to hike rates by more than 50 per cent.

Deputy Mayor Steve Ruddell and Cr Andrew Banfield will not contest the poll. Most of the remaining councillors say they will be seeking re-election at the 14 September poll.

The Independent Pricing and Regulatory Tribunal (IPART) is assessing the council’s proposed rate hike phased in over three years and councillors will make a final decision in June.

Cr Ruddell said he could not sit down at the same table as those spreading misinformation about the special rate variation (SRV). The decision had been a horrible but necessary one and if it was approved, he could leave the council knowing it was in a financially viable position.

Cr Banfield said his 16 years (17 counting COVID-19) on the council was enough, and it was becoming too difficult to get to meetings with his work commitments. He believes the current councillors are the best of all those who served during his tenure.

Mayor Peter Walker will seek re-election to continue looking for growth for the city and surrounding villages and looking after the many improvements to facilities including the Aquatic Centre and Performing Arts Centre.

Cr Walker said much of the increases the council was facing were unexpected. It would not have anticipated the extent of flooding and subsequent higher insurance premiums. The NSW Government has lumped additional costs on local government for rural fire services, and an Emergency Services Levy.

Councillors had to make tough decisions including the SRV.

“I’ll go down fighting and not have to look at cutting services or cutting staff,” Cr Walker said. ”These were our options: spread the cost between everybody, or on the other side of the ledger, cut services. I’m not prepared to do that as one councillor. We have great services and we want them to remain.”

READ ALSO Ratepayers say 50 per cent rates hike crazy, outrageous

Cr Walker said people had not grasped the fact that in local government money had to be accumulated to fund the depreciation of assets, and previous councils had not set aside money to rehabilitate the tip – worth about $12-$15 million. The council could not bank on winning grants, because NSW, and Australia, were in financial trouble.

Former mayor Cr Carol James will stand again and, having seen the figures of estimated cost increases, believes the council has no choice other than to seek the SRV.

“If we don’t, how will we cope?” she said. “None of us are happy about it, it was a hard decision to make. Being on the council is tough and you have to make tough decisions. It was the same as the [Southern Highlands] pipeline, you must stand up for what you believe. It’s tough. We [councillors] are all ratepayers, we have the same bills to pay.”

Shooters, Fishers and Farmers Party Cr Andy Wood is considering running, but said he would need to go through a pre-selection process before the poll. Despite the noisy opposition to the proposed SRV, he had received more comment that the increase was unfortunate but necessary and people were grateful for the proposed three-year introduction process.

Crs Jason Shepherd and Daniel Strickland will be standing for re-election. Cr Michael Prevedello is still considering whether he will run again.

READ ALSO Getting Goulburn people together over fresh produce

Cr Bob Kirk, who is re-standing, said if there were changes in the line-up of councillors he could provide continuity. He had wanted to defer the SRV to enable the community to receive more information and explanations of figures, and for the council to have a deep dive into its expenditure, review costs and come back to the community with its findings.

Cr Kirk rejected the need to fully fund depreciation.

“I don’t think any rural council could fully fund depreciation,” he said.

Some reliance on grants was necessary. But the council was compelled to listen to ratepayers.

Accountant and vocal opponent of the proposed SRV Nina Dillon has registered a group of candidates for the September poll.

“I will be the lead candidate, and I am currently in negotiations regarding other residents who will also be on the ticket,” she said. “Also confirmed as a candidate is Dr Christopher O’Mahony. We are going to have up to six people on our group ticket.”

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Ahh, Council Elections, the time when business people and wealthy land owners, and vested interests band together in groups with catchy names, like “Ratepayers First”, “Goulburn/ Mulwaree the Road Ahead” etc, trying to hide their links or sympathy to the Liberal Party or other Conservative parties.
They promise the world, they will watch staff expenditure and wasteful projects and the Council will be answerable to them. Only to find that when elected, they will rubber stamp and do exactly as the General Manager and Senior Staff say.
Nothing ever changes.

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