Residents rally against 60% rate increase

Over 200 residents gathered on the steps of Federation Council’s Corowa offices on Tuesday, ahead of the monthly council meeting, with hopes that council would reconsider the Special Rate Variation proposal which will see rates increase by 60 per cent.

More than 200 people gathered outside Federation Council’s Corowa offices to demonstrate their disapproval with council’s plans to apply a Special Rate Variation (SRV) to increase rate by 60 per cent over the next four years.

Rates in Federation will increase by 2.5 per cent after the 2022-23 budget and long-term financial plan 2022-23 was adopted unanimously by councillors at the monthly council meeting on Tuesday morning.

The rate increase will be followed, subject to IPART (the Independent Pricing and Regulatory Tribunal) approval, by a special rate variation for four years from 2023/24 to 2026/27 being 19 per cent, 17 per cent, 14 per cent and 10 per cent.

Following the 28-day public exhibition of council’s draft budget, 79 formal submissions from the public were received, with a strong representation from rural ratepayers.

Some of the key themes raised in the submissions were:

  • Ability of ratepayers, particularly pensioners, to afford increased rates
  • Condition of rural roads and need for service reviews of all Council services
  • Certainty that increased rural rates will be committed to increased investment in rural roads
  • Accountability and transparency
  • Productivity improvements and cost containment strategies
  • Lack of responsiveness to communications
  • Clear plan for future infrastructure renewal and investment
  • Clearer communication and a stronger engagement prior to this stage of the Special Rate Variation

Coreen farmer David Bott addressed council on behalf of the newly formed Federation Ratepayers Discussion Group prior to the meeting commencing.

“This group was formed out of direct response to council’s long-term financial planning, the proposals contained within it, the special rate variation of 60 per cent over four years on top of the 2.5 per cent this year resulting in a cumulative impact of 79 per cent over a five-year period,” Mr Bott said.

“If the proposed SRV is applied for and granted by IPART, it will push Federation residential and farmland ratepayers to be one of the highest when compared to other rural councils in NSW. It will mean Federation Council will have had eight SRV’s over 11 years by the 2026/27 financial year.

“A rate rise of this magnitude will only result in maintaining existing service levels with no guarantee of the $7 million in extra income going to improving roads or other managing assets which are well and truly due for renewal.

“Why should ratepayers of Federation Council accept the proposed SRV when IPART in its determination of the ‘8 per cent swimming pool’ SRV application stated that even with a special variation, council’s position will be significantly challenged. The council’s operating result is in deficit and will continue to deteriorate.

“The swimming pool SRV was required in part to find the operating costs of the aquatic centre, a project that has just posted in its first 12 months of operation a $740,000 loss with lower gate takings and higher operating costs that anticipated.”

Lowesdale farmer Elise Wenden also addressed council.

“As we (Federation Ratepayers Discussion Group) have demonstrated, the SRV will have a significant impact to ratepayers, and should be carefully scrutinised and thoughtfully planned. This could be as high as 79 per cent cumulatively on today’s rate notices. Speaking to other mothers and families in the district, this is very concerning given the rising cost of living. We don’t need any more financial stress on our lives.”

Fergusons Road last week. Farmers have criticised the council’s maintenance of roads across Federation Shire.
“Speaking to other mothers and families in the district, this is very concerning given the rising cost of living. We don’t need any more financial stress on our lives.”

Despite ratepayers’ submissions, council opted to adopt the budget citing that there was “no other way”.

Under the proposed budget in year one, council will complete $18m in capital projects, deliver $8.3m in road works, and $8.9m on our sewerage and water network.

In the Long-Term Financial Plan, council adopted a scenario that provides a $48 million annual operating program and $18.6m capital program for 2022/23 and a $104m total capital program over the 10 years.

Key priorities include:

  • Maintaining community services at current service levels,
  • Funding significant road renewal to address community concerns relating to deteriorating infrastructure, funded through a Special Rate Variation from July 2023,
  • Supporting our community to prosper and grow by improving employment opportunities and improving livability,
  • Undertaking detailed planning to address water and sewer needs in serviced communities,
  • Improving the robustness of Council’s long term Asset Management Planning and Long-Term Financial Planning to ensure that a financially responsible approach is taken and to ensure Council continues to strengthen its financial position over the medium to longer term,
  • Finalising the Federation Council Growth Strategy, and
  • Delivering the $2.6m Corowa foreshore upgrade.

In adopting the plans, Federation Council Mayor Patrick Bourke said the overall plans primary focus was to ensure council services are sustainable into the future, while delivering on the many major projects outlined in the Community Strategic Plan.

“Council unanimously supported scenario one that was publicly exhibited as it will provide capacity for council to address the asset management demands of existing infrastructure over an extended period of time and support council to deliver its 45 services,” he said.

“Council’s budget, with the support of the Special Rate Variation will support an improvement on road renewal and maintenance and the delivery of our 45 service areas that residents expect. We welcome the engagement we have received not just today from the 200 residents that gathered at the Civic Centre prior to our meeting, but throughout our financial sustainability journey thus far.”

Mayor Bourke said council as a business has experienced rapid changes and growth since its creation, with both former councils having historically low-rate bases and disproportionate asset bases to population levels.

“These challenges include a road network of 2322 km of roads broken into 964 km of sealed roads and 1,358 km of gravel roads,” he said.

Mayor Bourke also stressed that council understands very clearly where their financial risks are, and now have a plan for the next 10 years to ensure they continue to provide a high level of services to the community.

“Our long term plan relies upon ensuring our services are efficient and that we plan for the maintenance of the existing assets,” he said.

“While the Merger Funding has delivered some excellent facilities for our community, we need to ensure we can afford to maintain and operate them, and we can’t afford to keep buying new facilities without a revenue source to operate them.”

In closing, Mayor Bourke said that council had some challenges to reach a point of sustainability into the future and planning well for maintenance and operations of assets was critical.

“This budget presents a vision for the long-term and a strong starting point for us to continue to have conversations with our community about service expectations and subsequent costs associated with them,” he said.

“The time to act is now, no one wants to pay more in any situation in life, but for council to move forward and address the many issues the community has been raising for years, this in my opinion has been proven to be the sensible road to follow.

“I note the majority of objections and those that attended the demonstration at the Civic Centre were rural ratepayers and I think that speaks volumes for the dissatisfaction within the rural community at present.”

Federation Council Mayor Pat Bourke and General Manager Adrian Butler address dissatisfied ratepayers outside of council chamber on Tuesday.