While waiting to hear the NSW verdict on forced amalgamation with Queanbeyan, (verdict promised before Christmas), Palerang councillors resolved 7–2 at their December meeting to proceed with the special rate variation exercise.
According to every councillor who spoke for going ahead, proposing some level of rate rise is required for Palerang’s ability to ‘stand alone’. That is, Palerang was assessed as financially fit subject to raising rates. The ‘stand alone’ stance was voted by Palerang at its November meeting.
Sample comments, reflecting the majority:
Cockram: “If we don’t follow the process we jeopardise the chance to stand alone.”
France: “Fifty-one percent of the survey respondents think we should ‘improve’ ( ie willing to raise rates). I don’t like the idea of large rate increases but we’re stuck with what we planned.”
Hicks: “We only have two options, be financially viable or merge.”
Harrison: “A rate rise (3-6%) will be inescapable in a merged council too. To change now would be suicidal. The big problem is lack of funding from bodies at other levels of government.”
Councillors Marshall and Morrison dissented arguing that Palerang should wait and see on amalgamation first. A fear is that any rate rise might then be swallowed up by Queanbeyan projects. (See below for more on that).
SRV process from here on
The special rate variation (SRV) process from here is outlined on the facing page. In brief NSW requires that council notify IPART (Independent Pricing and Regulatory Tribunal) by 11 December of its intention to apply for an SRV.
Council in its business paper said it would notify its intent to apply for the highest SRV option of 9.5% (normal annual increase 2.5 % plus 7% special rate increase ongoing). This raised a small storm of social media outrage as people took it to mean that council just made a decision for a 9.5% rate increase.
However, council assured its members and anyone listening (as it happened only the Bulletin) that this is just procedural talk of intent to stay in the game, with a final decision on if and what rate increase to ask for not happening until the council meeting of 4 February.
Ratepayers have the opportunity between now and then to give further input to council on what their preferred level of rate increase is (from none to 7 %). Also on what projects should be prioritised for spending the money if it goes ahead. A delivery plan has to be developed and it is monitored by IPART. An amalgamated or ‘administered’ council has to honour the plan, said the Palerang general manager.
The figures are in on the postal, phone and online survey of residents preferences regarding the SRV. Close to half the respondents wanted no rate rise at all and of the others, the preference went to a smaller than 7% rise. It breaks down as:
Phone survey 43.8% for nothing, 28.1% for the smaller (4% plus 2.5%) rise and 9.5% for the proposed (7% plus 2.5%) rise, and the rest undecided. The mail-in results were 49.1%, 27.5% and 15.3%, respectively. The on-line results 50%, 19.5% and 18.3% respectively.
Where is the Member for Monaro on this?
Councillors who should know in both Palerang and Queanbeyan have told the Bulletin that they have not heard anything of late on the merger issue from the Member for Monaro John Barilaro, who pledged when he was re-elected (because it was a big issue at the time) that he would stand by any council that wants to stand alone.