Geoff Helisma The results of the telephone survey conducted by IRIS Research, to ascertain the sentiments of the valley’s residents to Clarence Valley Council’s proposed special rate variation and cuts to discretionary services, were familiar to the consultancy’s Geoff Besnard. He told councillors at last week’s council meeting that it was “no surprise” that there was not much support for the proposal among the 503 people who participated in the survey. However, he did say that there “seemed to be resistance” among the people contacted “to take part in the survey” – only ratepayers who said they had read the council-distributed Roads to Sustainability brochure were surveyed. A response rate of 44.5 per cent was achieved, which more or less matched the average results across five geographical areas, defined as Grafton, Yamba, South Grafton, Maclean and Iluka. He revealed that the survey’s results were “typical”, like those of the 60 other councils that IRIS has surveyed, regarding special rate variation applications. The survey method used by IRIS is regarded as “statistically reliable information” that has a plus or minus 3.5 per cent margin for error. Those surveyed were asked to score on a scale of 1 to 5 (where 5 is very important). They were quizzed on three options: the proposed eight per cent rate increase for each of five years, a reduction in the range of discretionary services and a combination of the two. Within these parameters, people were also asked to rate the importance of specified infrastructure and the specified discretionary services. There was “no strong support for the elimination of any service or facility other than [those highlighted as] ‘Under-Utilised’”, including unique or unusual sporting facilities, public amenities, and caravan parks and camping facilities. The report concluded: • Nothing that is being proposed has a high level of ratepayer support; • More than three in five (63%) ratepayers have opted for a rate rise of some sort; • The ratepayers have not clearly identified a range of discretionary services that they are happy to forego to achieve the cost savings that Council must make; and, • There is an opportunity to better sell the message to the Community that like all Councils in NSW, Clarence Valley must either radically cut services or substantially raise revenue to stay viable and that the reasons for this are outside of Council’s control and include things like Government cost shifting, rising community expectations and ageing infrastructure. Clarence Valley Council will hold an extraordinary meeting at the Grafton chambers at 2pm on Tuesday November 24 to “consider a report in relation to the Special Rate Variation”. This report will take into account the responses received from the valley’s residents (including non-ratepayers); of which there were 3,606 written and 604 online survey submissions. Both the IRIS survey and the Roads to Sustainability submissions are available on the council’s website as attachments to the relevant business items at last week’s council meeting. The cost of the consultation, including the phone survey, printing, postage and advertising, is expected “to be approximately $45k, including $20k for the phone survey and consultants report, $14k for postage of the consultation materials, and a further $11k for other costs,” the report to council states. This does not include time expended by council staff. A specific timetable for future key dates has not yet been established, however, the report to council states that these should be similar to the dates used in 2015/16: Special Variation notifications due to be made to IPART (12 December 2014); Special Variation applications to be submitted to IPART (16 February 2015); Minimum Rate variation applications to IPART (16 March 2015); and, IPART decisions on special rate variation applications announced (19 May 2015).