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  • Writer's pictureThe Beagle

What happens when the pockets become empty

What we have in Eurobodalla is a bucket of money that comes from our rates, charges such as DA fees and swimming pool entrance fees and water and sewer usage fees. If we need more money to do more then we have to find the money from somewhere. One way is to rely on Federal and State grants. The Federal government gives us money every year to help maintain roads, bridges, buildings, footpaths, and general infrastructure. Not enough but it helps. On top of those grants are the annual grants that help to employ community service personnel, help run the library and help fund environment projects. Without that funding we would have to find the funds ourselves via increased rates or not have them. The $120 million per year that it costs to run the council includes $36 million to employ the staff. Every year to costs to pay wages, pay for fuel, materials, overheads etc increases. Without fail. Every year we are asked to pay higher rates, higher user fees, high water and sewer fees. The Council tells us that we are Fit for the Future. But what does this mean to the average person in the street? Basically Fit for the Future is a box ticking exercise that Council does to prove to the State government that we have balanced our books. It reports that we have enough money coming in to cover our costs of maintenance, repair and renewal and that we are a region that is fiscally responsible. But that is not the actual truth. What we are is a region that is barely able to keep our head above water. If you look at our assets they are aging rapidly and are often in poor repair. Toilet blocks go unpainted, footpaths fail, our roads are failing at a rapid rate (and not solely because of rain), our parks and reserves are no longer maintained as they once were, and the backlog of infrastructure maintenance and renewal projects builds daily. Rate rises are no longer able to meet the soaring costs of materials and fuel. Something has to give. In the past Council has requested, and received, a Special Rate Variation. That means that we, the ratepayer, are slugged with an increase well beyond the usual annual CPI increase to meet the "backlog". Some might ask "But Council has over $100 million in investments. Why doesn't it use those?" The answer is that Council also has a massive debt by way of money owed to staff for superannuation and long service leave that needs to be covered. They also have considerable debt that they owe the NSW TCorp. In order to cover those debts they need to show they have a bankroll. So that "bankroll" is actually tied up. meanwhile the debts are building. By now the new councillors would have been briefed on all of this. This is because it is important, from the outset, that the new councillors realise that there is a budget, that certain debts have to be addressed and that the minimum requirements of renewal and maintenance are carried out to prove the Council is actually doing its job and is "Fit for the Future". "But I want to have a new footpath" "But I promised a new toilet block" "But my town needs a BBQ". The stock standard response is "If it isn't in the budget then you can have what you want but what will you take away that is already planned?". So there we have the bucket of money the Council has, along with the constraints. Pretty simple. But what if the residents and ratepayers can't afford to pay the increased rates? What then? Rates are one of those things you have to pay. If you don't pay your electricity they cut it off. But there isn't anything to cut off if you don't pay your rates. Council doesn't come around and turn off your water or plug u your sewer, nor do they stop collecting your garbage. No, what they will do instead is to pass your unpaid rates on to a Debt Collection company who will come around and demand payment. If you can't pay, it then escalates to the courts. And Council will hunt you down until that debt is paid saying that your unpaid rates place an unnecessary burden on all of the other ratepayers. Allan Brown was a Eurobodalla councillor several terms ago. Now semi retired Allan still maintains a keen interest in local politics. Given that he is on a budget he is mindful of how he, and other older residents in the shire are coping financially. Allan is very much aware of the big picture requirements that sees rates continue to rise to meet the endless demands of renewal and maintenance, whilst covering the costs of an ever increasing workforce. He has attempted on previous occasions to raise alarm to the fact that the shire has one of the highest figures in the state of residents over 65. Many of whom are on fixed incomes or are self funded. As such they have little flexibility to be able to dig deeper to find rate increases, especially Special Rate Variations, without the consequence of doing without, especially in areas such as nutrition, health, travel or social enjoyment. Allan provided the following suggestion of a Question on Notice to be asked by councillors in the previous five year term. He received little if any acknowledgement and his request drew a blank. Yes, there were promises that it might be raised but in the end it appeared as if the question was too hard to ask or had been dismissed by those who want to control the narrative of Council via its business papers. This time Allan is hoping that one of the new councillors in the current term might be able to as a Question on Notice on his behalf. In asking a Question on Notice the response required from the Council staff would then be in the public domain and open to scrutiny. Mr Brown has now sent the following to the current councillors hoping that one of them might raise the question on an upcoming agenda. Hopefully it won't be met with the same lazy indifference that it has been given in the past. Question On Notice for next available council Meeting

The shires population is rapidly increasing, with mainly an aged demographic. The shires aged population are generally fixed income residents with very regulated disposable weekly incomes. Council requires significant cash flows to maintain public assets and provide new assets as population growth requires and demands.

What plans do council presently have to remain financially viable in the foreseeable future taking into account the ageing populations ability to pay and the areas high unemployment numbers ?

How are the Council’s long term viability plans, proposed to be funded ?

Allan Brown


NOTE: Comments were TRIALED - in the end it failed as humans will be humans and it turned into a pile of merde; only contributed to by just a handful who did little to add to the conversation of the issue at hand. Anyone who would like to contribute an opinion are encouraged to send in a Letter to the Editor where it might be considered for publication

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