The former mayor of Bombala Shire Council, Bob Stewart, has recorded a significant win in his role as Snowy Monaro Regional councillor, leading a push against a massive rate hike.
Cr Stewart led opposition to the proposed 53 per cent special rate variation (SRV), which council had voted on two weeks prior and which had been referred to the Independent Pricing and Regulatory Tribunal (IPART).
It was a close vote, with six of the 11 councillors voting for the increase. The proposal had stirred up much controversy among the community, with many claiming they would not be able to afford the increase.
At that time, Cr Stewart said the SRV was “not the way to go” and that council could do better for ratepayers.
At the 16 February meeting, Cr Stewart successfully lodged a rescission motion to reverse the decision made to proceed with the increase.
IPART will be informed that Snowy Monaro Regional Council is now seeking what is known as ‘Option 2’ – a 55.25 per cent rate increase spread over five years starting from 2023/24.
This rescinds the previous motion to apply for a 53 per cent one-year SRV.
In moving the rescission motion, Cr Stewart said many sections of the community would be left struggling financially following such a severe rise.
“You’ve got to think about the affordability for people, have a bit of empathy,” he said. “This is no way to treat a community. We need to work with them.
“The sensible way to move forward is to go back to Option 2, and then review it. It gives council time to get its house in order, see how we can deliver outcomes better. And it won’t have that impact on the community.”
Cr Louise Frolich pointed out that the community had been very clear in its stance against the 53 per cent rise during consultation, with Cr Luke Williamson stating that such a large SRV would damage the working relationship between council and the community.
Chris Hanna said council needed a long-term plan, which Option 2 allowed for.
At the last meeting Cr Tricia Hopkins, who had voted for the original motion, changed her stance and supported the rescission motion.
Crs Higgins, Summers, Davis, Beer and Mitchell voted against the rescission motion, maintaining that the 53 per cent SRV was the wisest way forward as per recommendations by staff and financial reports.
Council said Option 2 enabled an additional staged investment of $51.1 million in asset renewal to progressively stabilise the current infrastructure backlog and to undertake additional renewal and maintenance of roads and other community assets and that over time, current service levels would be maintained while also progressively improving the operating result and financial sustainability.
Council said this option strikes the balance between addressing council’s structural deficit, maintenance and renewal backlog, and structural inefficiencies – with the equally important concerns of community affordability. Improvements will take longer under this more conservative SRV, and there may still be a need for short-term service and facility reductions.