By STEVE GRAY
TENTERFIELD Shire Council and its officials will be in for a torrid time over the next three weeks as they attempt to justify huge increases in rates at a series of public meetings.
The council intends to lodge an application for a Special Rates Variation with the NSW government to raise an additional 12 per cent in 2014/15 and a further seven per cent for each of the following three years.
This would be in addition to a forecast automatic three per cent increase under the rate peg allowed by the State Government.
Opponents of the plan say it will mean an 84 per cent increase in rates over the next decade.
The Tenterfield Rates and Anti-Amalgamation Forum (TRAAF) has posed a number of questions to, and accused the council of “mismanagement and unconscionable conduct”.
TRAAF spokesman Robert Walker says staff salary and benefits have consumed the entire income from rates over the last five years.
“Not a red cent of it went to infrastructure in 2012 or 2011,” he said.
Mr Walker disputed a council claim that a survey of ratepayers showed “an overwhelming agreement and acceptance of the necessity for a rate variation” to improve its financial position.
“This statement itself is a nonsense in that it claims an overwhelming number of ratepayers would positively endorse a huge increase in rates,” Mr Walker said. “It is just not human nature to do so.”
He said compounded year-on-year, the proposed increases will represent an 84 per cent hike in rates over the next decade.
Tenterfield Shire Council blames 37 years of rate pegging by successive state governments for its financial position.
“In addition, previous elected councils did not always increase the rates by the allowable rate peg and therefore Tenterfield Shire is even further behind in rates income compared to similar shires,” general manager Lotta Jackson said in a letter to ratepayers.
She indicated Tenterfield Shire had to act “to remain financially sustainable as an independent shire” to stave off a threatened amalgamation with Glen Innes Severn Shire.
Ms Jackson proposed a number of alternatives to raise revenue, including reductions in operating costs and levels of service; productivity improvements; property sales and increases in income from leases; and the proposed rates increases.
A recent survey of 560 local governments across Australia ranked Tenterfield Shire a lowly 445 for its economic fundamentals.
It was ranked 301 in the nation for its infrastructure and essential services; and 531 out of 560 for its business sophistication.
Mr Walker said the shire has been caught out beginning its application to the State Government for a Special Rates Variation even before the public consultation process begins.
He was also critical of the 90-minute time limit placed on the eight public meetings to be held across the shire from 29 October to 11 November, saying it limited free speech.
Tenterfield Shire Council has called meetings to discuss council’s response to its economic plight:
Tuesday, 29 October 4.30pm (QLD) 5.30pm (NSW)
Tuesday, 29 October 7.00pm (QLD) 8.00pm (NSW)
Wednesday, 30 October 5.30pm (QLD) 6.30pm (NSW)
Thursday, 31 October 6.00pm (QLD) 7.00pm (NSW)
School of Arts Building
Friday, 1 November 2.00pm (QLD) 3.00pm (NSW)
Jennings Wednesday, 6 November 6.00pm (QLD) 7.00pm (NSW)
Thursday, 7 November 6.00pm (QLD) 7.00pm (NSW)
Monday, 11 November 6.00pm (QLD) 7.00pm (NSW)