13 February 2015 Rate Rise – Council Listens and Acts

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Council has listened to community concerns over the affordability of the proposed rate rises and is to freeze water and sewer access charges for three years to ensure that any increase in annual bills in that time is kept to no more than 3.9% for the average urban ratepayer.

Fees for onsite septic sewer system inspections are also to be adjusted so that rural property ratepayers will receive a similar benefit.

“The question of ‘can people afford it’ is a key consideration for any council looking at proposing a rate increase. The Coffs Harbour community has told us ‘no, we can’t afford it’. We’ve heard that message and we’ve come up with a way to move forward without the pain in the pocket,” said Coffs Harbour Mayor, Councillor Denise Knight.

Council has voted to apply for the proposed two-year Special Rate Variation (SRV) of 8.14% for 2015/16 and 7.75% for 2016/17, but at the same time, will freeze annual water and sewer access charges to keep the rise in people’s overall rates and charges costs to 3.9% for three years. The 3.9% will include the annual rate peg increase set by the State Government.

After the first year, Council will again review the progress achieved through the SRV and other savings initiatives currently underway and consider whether it is necessary to apply the rate increase proposed for 2016/17.

“Affordability is also the watchword that Council is operating under,” said Steve McGrath, Council’s General Manager. “We are trying to find a way to continue to provide the services the community wants, while also making sure that the infrastructure that underpins those services can be kept in a safe and reasonable working condition.”

The two-year rate increase would help pay for $4.2m worth of infrastructure repairs and replacements – principally for roads.

“We’re also well on the way through our own internal Transformation to Sustainability programme that is forecast to produce savings of $3.2m after three years,” said Mr McGrath. “Plus we’ll continue to look for ways to increase profits through our business units and the commercialisation of Council’s CityWorks construction division, as well as further improving our management of public assets to ensure we get the most value for money.

“But we recognise that we can’t close our financial sustainability ‘gap’ through a single strategy. We need a package of measures to get Council to a financially sustainable position – so we can continue to provide the services the community wants us to deliver.”

Council carried out a wide-ranging public consultation on the proposed SRV which included a brochure and reply-paid postcard for responses sent to all ratepayers, a public online survey and a survey of Council’s Online Survey Panel, which represents a statistically accurate portion of the Coffs Harbour population. The public online survey and postcards returned showed significant opposition to the SRV.  The Online Survey Panel results were 29% for and 71% against the rate rise. The main concern consistently expressed through the feedback was the affordability of the rate increase.

Council will put forward its Special Rate Variation application to IPART by the deadline of February 16 2015.