Rate hike push back from brink

By JONATHON HOWARD

TENTERFIELD Shire Council teeters on a financial cliff with current revenue unable to maintain even basic services unless changes are made, according to the council’s general manager Lotta Jackson.
Ms Jackson made the shock announcement in presenting the shire’s draft 10-year Strategic Plan and Draft Operational Plan 2013/14 on Wednesday, 30 May.
The draft plan outlined a need to pull the council back from the brink and avoid the prospect of forced amalgamation with Glen Innes Severn.
It was for this reason, Ms Jackson explained, that Tenterfield Shire Council would require a rate hike of up to 40 per cent over the next four years; as well as a raft of revenue increases designed to sure up council’s financial future.
Tenterfield council compiled the report in consultation with residents. It followed a recent “road show” across the shire by Ms Jackson and the shire’s engineering services director Dennis Gascoigne.
Ms Jackson said that the changes were not something council wanted to do, “but something that has to be done”.
“Councillors and staff have worked hard this year to achieve a balanced budget in 2013/14 but current revenue sources will not be sufficient to ensure Tenterfield’s future, or deal with the proposed amalgamation recommended by the Independent Review Panel,” Ms Jackson said in the draft report.
“Past Councils have resolved not to increase rates in line with rate pegging with the best of intentions, but our shire now finds itself in a position where revenue is insufficient to maintain even basic services unless changes are made.”
Other changes included the introduction of a user-pays levy and higher fees and charges at the sale yards, including an increase in agents’ fees from $1209 a year to $3850 per year. The waste management levy on rates will also increase from $100 to $160.
General waste dumping at Tenterfield, Urbenville and Drake landfill stations will also incur an $82 per tonne fee for general waste, as well as new construction certificate charges.
Mayor Peter Petty said tough measures were needed.
“These measure will ensure that Tenterfield Shire Council can make alone into the future, without amalgamation, as a financially strong council,” he said.
Mr Petty also praised the work of council staff for the report and said the council team had ensured the process was open and transparent through the comprehensive Road Shows and other public consultation.
Ms Jackson highlighted that Tenterfield Shire Council was still positioned cheaper or on par with surrounding councils.
“Financial sustainability is a goal for Tenterfield council as it is for all councils,” she told Fairfax reporters.
“The increases in fees and charges and the proposed application for a special rates variation in the coming years are necessary for Tenterfield to remain sustainable as well as lobbying State and Federal Government to assist with funding for the infrastructure backlog.”
The difficulties faced through Tenterfield Shire’s low rating levels were demonstrated through comparisons with similar councils.
Tenterfield’s rural ratings sit at less than 50 per cent of the group average and just over half of the rating levels at Glen Innes Severn.
Residential and commercial rating levels were also significantly below other councils, according to Ms Jackson.
Mr Gascoigne explained the impact of the revenue shortfall across the engineering budget, specifically commenting on the maintenance of gravel roads.
“Our current budget allows us to re-sheet about 10km of road per year,” he said in the draft report.
“Given that we have over 1000km of road, it will take 100 years to complete the process at current funding levels.
“This is without even considering sealed roads, timber bridge replacement, installation of culverts and rectification of drainage issues.”
Mr Gascoigne also commented on the budget for waste management services, particularly the ongoing costs of EPA compliance.
Mr Gascoigne pointed out that Tenterfield Shire was not alone in dealing with the cost of 50 years of under-investment in waste management.
Repayments for last year’s 91.25 million emergency loan will add $48.61 to every rate assessment for the next 10 years, he said.
“The loan was used to respond to EPA directives relating to Tenterfield Shire’s landfill, rural landfills and transfer stations.”
The Free Times attempted to contact Ms Jackson for further comment but she was unavailable before deadline.

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