The Beagle Editor, Eurobodalla ratepayers might find our latest media release regarding comparative Council rates of interest. on the numbers …
A particularly common complaint about Bega Valley Shire Council (BVSC) is that its rates are too high, in particular compared to metropolitan areas such as Sydney & Melbourne.The Bega Valley Shire Residents & Ratepayers Association (BVSRRA) recently decided to check & see if there was any merit to such complaints. One of the common misunderstandings that the BVSRRA identified is the confusion around the provision of services, which often gives rise to erroneous comparisons. For example, in regional shires, the provision of services such as drinking water & sewerage management are provided by councils (except where a household is off-line) while in metropolitan areas such as Sydney, those services are provided by Sydney Water & are invoiced independently of rates invoices from councils.The BVSRRA has constructed a simple “apples to apples” comparison of annual service charges commonly paid by ratepayers in the Bega Valley & their Sydney metropolitan counterparts in 2015/2016, as follows:
Based on that simple comparison, the average residential ratepayer in the Bega Valley connected to council provided drinking water & sewerage services is certainly not paying as much as their Sydney counterparts, accepting that the quality of services provided are also comparable, which is a whole other issue, in particular in the case of drinking water. For those locals who might want to protest too loudly about the size of their residential council charges, the BVSRRA has calculated that if they were expected to pay the same average amount as their Sydney cousins, BVSC would enjoy additional annual revenue of around $4.8m. Perhaps of greater interest to ratepayers in the Bega Valley is how their charges compare with other similar regional local government areas. There are 23 regional councils falling into the same local government category as the Bega Valley, as determined by the federal government. A comparison of charges shows
So, compared to other regional areas, the averageresidential rate payed in the Bega Valley is on a par with that paid across all regional local government areas, whilst that rate is higher in 15 of the other 23 local government areas. However, when it comes to Domestic Waste Collection charges, residential ratepayers pay an average of 24% more than average residential ratepayers in other local government areas, with residential ratepayers in 18 of the 23 local government areas paying less than their counterparts in the Bega Valley. The biggest difference is in the cost of drinking water & sewerage management services for those connected, with residential ratepayers in the Bega Valley paying an average of 67% more than the average residential ratepayer in other local government areas; the second highest average cost in all 23 regional local government areas (the BVSRRA is currently exploring why this is the case). For those residential ratepayers who remain disgruntled, there are a multitude of other comparisons that can be made to try & understand the level of equity in that part of local government funded by ratepayers, including comparing the level of contributions being made by different sections of the community
On first blush, it would seem that private residents & businesses are contributingrelatively more on average than are farmers.
From the above view, it again seems that residential ratepayers are contributing a disproportionately higher percentage of total rate income in the Bega Valley, compared to the average, while business appears to be under-contributing against the average. Of course, while these kinds of comparisons are of value in themselves, there are numerous variables that need to be considered in forming any strong conclusions, including the relative size of the shire (the Bega Valley is more than double the size of the regional average), its population (the Bega Valley is only 80% of the average), income levels (the Bega Valley has an average income of 90% of the average), the relative size of the economy, the business base (the Bega Valley has only 70% of the average number of businesses), kilometres of roads compared to the average (the Bega Valley has 130% of the average of all regional councils), the capacity to pay (average income in the Bega Valley is only 86% of the average for all comparable regional areas), twice the average number of swimming pools, one & a half times the average number of halls. But back to the issue of rates.It might surprise some that, while the BVSRRA doesn’t want to see rates any higher than they reasonably should be, it has never opposed higher rates or charges for their own sake. Having said that, the original impetus for the formation of the BVSRRA was opposition to BVSC’s application for a special rate variation back in 2012. But the main reasons for that opposition was the widely held view in the community that BVSC was not operating efficiently & was not doing enough to improve its performance. And certainly at the time there was a strong perception that BVSC management was largely ineffective & unaccountable for its performance. Over the last five years the BVSRRA has endeavoured to place BVSC’s activities under greater scrutiny in an effort to see that the community is better informed & in the hope that improvement would come. Regrettably, the BVSRRA believes that there has been little real improvement in the performance of council, with the culture remaining relatively unchanged.In fact, in many respects the BVSRRA believes that the situation has deteriorated as a result of a weaker & less effective council being elected. The BVSRRA believes that the current council is both lazy & ineffective, & that council’s senior management is in charge.The BVSRRA believes that there is less openness, transparency & accountability at council than there was five years ago & there are few signs that it will undergo a transformation any time soon. The BVSRRA believes that the elected councillors are largely disinterested; they rarely challenge management & seem ready to support most of what is put before them without any genuine critical analysis.As far as council’s financial performance is concerned, the fact that residents & ratepayers have been denied access to the council’s current budget more than eight months after it was adopted is reprehensible. That a detailed breakdown of the General Fund is not available to inform residents & ratepayers as to the nature & scale of council’s key expenses is equally unacceptable. So how can any ratepayer make an informed judgement in terms of whether council is performing efficiently & effectively? In the meantime, council continues to pump ratepayers’ funds into subsidies for developers or for friends of council. It continues to throw money at tourism promotions while not even able to say how much it has spent. It has done little or nothing, other than to develop uncertain plans, to improve the urban environment & make our towns & villages more attractive to visitors to the benefit of the local economy.And if those deficiencies aren’t enough to worry about, the evidence of council having abandoned its responsibilities for maintaining the public space in good order & condition is visible everywhere. BVSC operates in a haphazard & erratic fashion, responding to whatever crisis happens to be in focus each day. It has a defective customer service culture where “customers” are tolerated at best, whilst more often than not treated with open contempt. It is in a constant process of planning, leaving little or no time for actually “doing” anything, apart from publicly celebrating itself. BVSC management believes & behaves as if it is answerable only to itself. There is no value system; no set of principles to underpin decision-making & inform standards of performance. Keeping-up appearances passes for leadership. So it is that BVSRRA has made it clear that it will fight any attempt by BVSC to achieve an increase in rates above approved cost of living increases, regardless of purpose, as long as council’s culture remains in its current parlous state. And for those who would like to explore more statistical information regarding BVSC & other local government areas, the BVSRRA has assembled a summary of key items here ... http://www.begavalleyshireratepayers.asn.au/files/Bega-Valley-Shire-Fact-Sheet---01.03.2018.pdf For those who would rather look at the source data for themselves, you can find the latest published statistics (2015/2016) on the Office of Local Government (OLG) website here ... https://www.olg.nsw.gov.au/public/my-local-council/yourcouncil-website Anyone who has any questions/comments on the issues canvassed in this piece can contact the BVSRRA by email here ... firstname.lastname@example.org John Richardson Secretary/Treasurer Bega Valley Shire Residents & Ratepayers Association Website:http://www.begavalleyshireratepayers.asn.au