Editorial June 26th 2020

Welcome to this week’s editorial, It’s official—the Council have spoken and decided we are going to pay 2.6% higher general rates and that the water and sewer overcharging they do annually in order to pay themselves a bonus dividend will continue. In addition to those charges will be the across-the-board increases to Fees and Charges, from pool entry to tip fees. Everything is going UP.

In response the announcement Councillor Pat McGinlay said “Around two months ago, when Council agreed to put the rates and fees proposals out for public consultation, I tried to get two amendments. The first was that there be zero increase to rates. “The second was that there be no increase in council fees and charges. I did this to highlight to anyone who cared to observe, that it was just totally inappropriate to even PROPOSE to our community at this time to even THINK of adding a further general cost burden. I noted, back then, that according to the numbers as disclosed on the draft OPERATIONAL budget, that Council’s projected income, exceeded it’s projected expenditure in 1920/21 by between $5.5m and $6.0m. My amendments were dismissed.” Commenters this week have noted that the rate peg is determined by IPART each year and it sets the MAXIMUM increase. It is not mandatory so when council refers to adopting the 'recommendation' they are referring to the STAFF recommendation. In the General Manager's report she recommends that "Council make the annual Ordinary Rates for 2020-21 IN ACCORDANCE with the rate peg set by IPART which is 2.6%, as contained in the table in the report." It is now widely considered that the use of the words IN ACCORDANCE by the General Manager are deliberately misleading. The rate peg is determined by IPART each year and it sets the MAXIMUM increase to general income NSW councils can collect. The main component of general income is rates revenue. Councils have DISCRETION to INCREASE general income up to the rate peg, by less than the rate peg or NOT AT ALL. There is very little doubt that the bureaucrats will roll out an extract of the legislation that says that they are allowed to redirect any surpluses in the water and sewer funds to the general ledger if such surpluses should arise. What the legislation will not say is that it would be IMMORAL and UNETHICAL for a council to intentionally write into their expected revenue a calculated annual dividend from such funds to knowingly use it to prop up the General Fund. To knowingly and intentionally put up water and sewer rates to ensure a dividend that is allowed to be transferred by way of a loophole is scurrilous behaviour and to have Councillors now endorse this Operational Plan and the clear statement of intention to once again overcharge ratepayers in order to pay a dividend to the General Fund that primarily pays Council wages (33%) brings into question the very ethics and morality of our councillors who should be representing the community and not serving their masters.... Council announced, by way of media release this week, after adopting the rate rise “In line with most other NSW councils, rates and fees will rise by 2.6 per cent - the NSW Government’s recommended increase for councils this year. However, changes to Council’s hardship policy mean those who need help paying their rates will get it, with interest-free payment plans available over 12 months.” Jeff de Jager of Coila Creek asks “Is the 2.6 per cent figure a "recommended" increase as quoted or is it the maximum increase that councils can apply to its basic rates and other charges subject to state control? Mr de Jager continues “Neither the mayor nor any other councillor pointed out that there are many other fees and charges that are not limited and these are the ones that can be "played" with without state level scrutiny. Nor did this media release offer any of our elected representatives' explanations of why the council's water fund is able to give seven figure dividends back to council's general fund each year simply by charging much more than the true costs involved. “How come some neighbouring councils, also affected by the fires and more the impacts of the COVID virus, are able to offset the financial impacts of rate increases by giving a rebate/discount on the bill? We shouldn't hold our breaths waiting for answers to these questions, eh?” It appears however that Councillor Lindsay Brown believes that the 40% of non-resident ratepayers are more than capable of meeting the 2.6% rate hike suggesting that they are “well off” and millionaires”. Councillor Constable did attempt to argue that the 2.6% was above CPI to which he was advised to “get his hand off it” by a fellow councillor. As to what Clr Constable had his hand “on” remains unknown. While most might find the debate of the rate rise from last Tuesday’s council meeting a tad boring it reveals much about our local democracy and the fact that there is little representation being done by the bulk of our councillors who should do us all a favour and “get their hands off it” and instead remind themselves of their duty to serve the community and not the whims of the General Manager and her Executive staff. Until next—lei