Clarence Valley residents will be asked to comment on whether the council should apply for a special rate rise.
The mayor, Jim Simmons, said a decision on whether to apply for the special rate variation (SRV) would not be made until the community had the opportunity to have its say.
“At this stage all we are after is public comment,” he said in a media release.
“Council will decide whether to apply for an SRV only after that comment is received and considered.
“We want as many people as possible to provide their views so we can get a clear picture of what the community wants.
“…We must consider all options to become financially sustainable over the long term and meet the state government’s Fit for the Future benchmarks.”
Mayor Simmons said there would be public meetings, street and shopping centre ‘pop-up’ information stalls, a dedicated information web site – where people could make submissions, take a survey or comment –, a phone survey and focus group sessions.
“If council decides to apply for another SRV [see SRV discussions begin on page 2 for detail on the SRV proposal’s percentages] … it would result in about a 4.3 per cent increase in the general rate on most current rates notices,” Cr Simmons said.
“It would not apply to annual domestic waste collection services, water or sewer charges or on-site effluent management charges.”
Cr Simmons said the council would also be writing to residents seeking their views.
Following last week’s council meeting the Independent put it to Cr Simmons that the vote on whether or not to apply for the SRV could have been different had Cr Karen Toms attended the meeting – he broke the four-four deadlock with his casting vote.
The mayor acknowledged that he had campaigned against a 41 per cent rate increase with Crs Toms and Andrew Baker during the election and that he had said “we do not need and I will not support rate rises above the State Government rate peg limit” in the Daily Examiner on September 9.
“Primarily, my concern is that council in the past had sought a cumulative increase of 37 per cent for a general rate increase,” he said. “And in the background papers there was reference to a 41 per cent increase cumulative, and I didn’t want to see huge rate increases; I won’t stand by them; I won’t support them at all.
“But council staff are asking that the current rate level be maintained – they’ll get by with that.
“A lot of us [councillors] have to be satisfied, including myself, as to the need of it.”
During the council meeting, Cr Baker said he “liked the idea of leaving a threat of and SRV, not that I would vote for it”.
He said he was “not satisfied” that other options had been “explored”, to address the council’s fiscal problems, and pointed out that staff numbers had increased from around 500 fulltime equivalent employees in 2012 to the current 550.
“In that time our employment costs have gone up $4.14m … but our rates have only gone up by $2.09m; at some point something has to give,” he said. “If we don’t do our part someone else [an administrator] will take over and do it for us.
“…If we explore all of the other [potential] actions as a group on nine councillors … and find no answers, then I’ll have to support a rates increase … if we are going to support growing employee numbers.”
Voting: For – Crs Williamson, Kingsley, Lysaught, Simmons; Against – Crs Baker, Novak, Ellem, Clancy.