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Editorial April 23rd 2021

Welcome to this week’s editorial, This week we learnt from Council that Eurobodalla visitors spent up big over summer according to the latest data from Spendmapp Over the 2020/21 summer period, the shire’s total spending was $270 million. Of this, $132 million was from visitors. This compares to the $201 million ($72m from visitors) in 2019/20, and $224 million ($110m visitors) in 2018/19 summer. That is terrific for our tourism related businesses desperate for trade to make up for losses and to put some aside for the next four months of winter. It is also good news for those who work on the tourism sector. Already considerably underemployed, the many in our community who ride our seasonal tourism peaks and troughs hopefully managed to also put some dollars aside for the winter ahead. An aside to the swell in tourism spending over the summer period were the incredible sales in real estate. Whilst we witnessed record sale prices in the region we also witnessed a groundswell of sales at elevated prices, mostly to outside buyers keen to own a piece of #AllKindsOfNatural, be they sea changers, those working remotely or those in a Covid Exodus from the city. The downside of this is that rentals have become incredibly rare and, if they can be found, have, on average, risen by 22.7%. This is beginning to have a concerning domino effect as more and more renters find that landlords are keen to either sell in an upward market or are considering the more lucrative provision of over-night accommodation through AirBnB etc as the region is “discovered”.

All of these record house sales come as music to Council as the increased values will result in increased Unimproved Valuations which form the base of Council General Rates. In time our General Rates will increase as our land values climb. Next week the Eurobodalla Councillors will be looking at the 21/22 draft Delivery Plan and they are already proposing some significant surprises for ratepayers. Hopefully some of Big Summer Visitor Spending landed in your pocket.

The funny thing with the extract (above) is that Council tells us that Water Charges are determined “taking into account NSW Best Practice Guidelines”. What isn’t stated is the ongoing fact that, revealed in June 2020 by Councillor Pat McGinlay when he forced the Council Director of Finance to admit, in a council meeting, that this was Council's practice to overcharge, thereby explaining to the many who were in the public gallery and watching via live streaming why Eurobodalla water and sewer rates seem so inflated in comparison to other councils. Without apology the Eurobodalla Council claims that it is all above board that they are legally able to continue with the practice. To ensure the practice continued into the next financial year Councillors voted again, without debate, for the Water/Sewer Dividend and water and sewer charges offering, by way of justification, that: The declaration and payment of dividends from council’s water and sewer operations to council’s general fund, is tightly regulated and subject to an annual independent audit of council’s compliance to specific best-practice guidelines, followed by a council resolution to allow the dividend to be passed. What this means is that they knowingly overcharge on water and sewer to ensure that both of these Cost Centres (Water and Sewer) can then pay the poor cousin General Fund that is restricted by rate capping, set at 2% by the NSW State Government. In essence the General Fund pays for most of the things Council does outside of Water and Sewer. But Council have been long crying poor saying they don’t get enough money from rates making them rely instead on Grants, Fees and Charges and Dividends. It is around this time that Council pulls out Financial reports filled with complexities, jargon and single line entries making it nearly impossible for anyone to drill down to discover what is actually happening with the accounts. Adding to the mix is the game of swapping things around so that Apples can’t be compared to Apples from one year to the next. An old trick that goes hand in hand with reorganisation. Generally the councillors haven’t got a clue what is going on other than what they are told by staff in “briefings”. Sadly the public are not privy to what is said behind closed doors and the councillors rarely challenge staff knowing it will put them in disfavour. Those who have challenged staff or the voting bloc of six have found themselves on the outer for most of the last four and a half years. If you were to ask a councillor today “Will there be a Special Rate Variation because we don’t seem to have enough money to do the essentials of maintenance and upgrades?” you will be given a smug reassuring smile and a reply of “Not in this term of Council.” Well this term of Council only has a few months more to run before the 2021 elections in September. But before they stand down into Caretaker mode our present Council are pushing ahead to sign off on the budget and priorities they want that the next Council will inherit. That will also include the increases in water and sewer rates along with fees to play tennis, go for a swim, hire a hall or lodge a Development Application. We can expect increases in Fees and Charges across the board along with an increased base rate in the General Fund as last year’s General valuations come on board. All of a sudden it appears our once affordable, sleepy South Coast backwater, that once attracted so many Fixed Income retirees, is set to become a financial challenge. And it is out of our control. Until next—lei