Council finances


May I add, with respect, to Mayor Ian Tiley’s message in your newspaper edition (CVI 20/7/22) re the financial sustainability of NSW Local Government. He is absolutely right in saying that the “service expectations of communities” have increased manyfold compared to former times.

I sincerely believe this is partly the crux of the problem of local councils feeling the financial pinch today as they are too beholden to the high level of modern ratepayer and resident expectations. In short, we people want too much, and our serving councils are too often too eager to meet ratepayer requests for financial support for matters extraneous to the stable running of normal Council services, all also in the possible interests of friendly votes at election times.

Local councils were originally created to provide basic services only to ratepayers and businesses by way of essential water supply, sewerage, lighting, new building controls, streets, bridges and roads, basic health protection, pest control, licensing, green parks etc. But, today, due to we ratepayers wanting too many non-basic and non-vital ‘freebees,’ our councils feel they have to finance comparative non-essential service luxuries that make little real difference to the wellbeing of the public at large.

In this regard, what I am referring to here is the provision of financial and other support to matters not essential to life and wellbeing in our council area. There are too many political and other pressures being placed on councils to fund social, sporting, recreational and ‘nice to look at’ facilities and events. A study of our Council’s annual budgets reveals all in this respect.

When I was a boy before WW11, any group of ratepayers wishing to create, for instance, a new sporting facility never dreamed of pressuring their local council into providing the money and muscle for the job.  Instead, they raised their own club or group finance by means of holding fetes, dances, auctions and competitions — and having great fun and companionship doing so. Now, we continually read of very minor pressure groups with their hands out for immediate council support and help — and all too often getting it.

When I was secretary of the Yamba, Angourie and Wooloweyah Community Association before amalgamation, the former Maclean Council took on too many business interests financially and administratively with relatively little positive effect to its balance sheet. As a result of this, and in trying to balance its books, Maclean Shire Council adopted an expansionist policy of creating more means of collecting more money from a big increase in rated properties due to pressures from the relatively small local real estate industry.

This is when the notorious and dangerous West Yamba bare floodplain development was devised very much against YAWCA’s scientifically-based prophesies that parts of Yamba would be seriously flooded in the future, just as recently occurred with serious consequences in many parts of the town. In spite of many years of strong public opposition, West Yamba has more recently received the green light to go ahead and satisfy the needs of a few.

Maclean Shire was also pushed by certain interests to formulate a plan to develop Yamba Hill with high-rise accommodation for a big increase in its rating income, supported by a large-scale widening of the old sanitary lanes for additional parking. When in power, the late Mayor Mrs Joy Matthews also had a well- considered plan to leasing Yamba’s central cricket ground to a supermarket chain in the hopes of winning more rating income. It was only when the firmer real estate agent, Mrs Gay Pritchard, and I made our town’s serious objections known to the then Mayor, that the plan was dropped. The argument used by the Council at the time was that it had received some written requests from ratepayers for an alternative supermarket and shopping centre at the end of Coldstream Street.

When next we receive our next Council rates notice next month, let’s hope that more street potholes will be fixed, and fewer minor public demands will be met for big and small projects by small interest groups quite capable of raising their own funds with a bit of energy and ingenuity.

Oscar Tamsen, Yamba