TIME is running out for residents to make their voice heard when it comes to Leeton Shire Council's proposed special rate variation.
Those wanting to comment on the proposed SRV of 52.52 per cent over the next two financial years have until 5pm on Wednesday, November 9 to do so.
To date, close to 900 submissions and several petitions have been received. Council staff have commenced a review of the feedback ahead of an upcoming councillor workshop on Wednesday night.
At that workshop, councillors will discuss what they have heard from community with a view to suggesting what range of alternative options they would like the general manager and staff to add to their report to council's November Ordinary Council meeting on November 23.
It is at this meeting a decision will be made regarding the proposed SRV.
Commenting on the feedback received so far, general manager Jackie Kruger said while some residents comprehend the need for a SRV, the majority of residents are strongly against.
She said she understood and even expected that, but is concerned many responses are based on incorrect assumptions.
An example Mrs Kruger gave was some residents thinking Leeton shire was declared "Fit for the future "forever".
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"When declared Fit For The Future in 2015, council was only 'fit' for five years whereafter the operating result went into deficit, which is exactly where we have landed now," Mrs Kruger said.
"In 2016 council reported to the community on its initial improvement plan to stay Fit for the Future, but unfortunately ratepegging, the freezing of the financial assistance grant, increased compliance reporting and ongoing cost shifting has eroded our ability to remain financially sustainable in our general fund (which does not include water, sewer or waste services)."
Mrs Kruger said keeping the general fund in black for business-as-usual was a bit like digging a hole at the beach where as fast as you dig, the waves roll in and sand fills up the hole.
"Each year through its delivery program/operational plan and annual reports, the elected council keeps the community fully informed about its activities and the state of its finances," she said.
"In 2016, council proudly stated it had found $800K of savings towards the Fit for the Future Improvement Plan, but by 2016017 and 2017-18, council was lamenting miserable rate pegs of 1.8 per cent and 1.5 per cent respectively that did not reflect the true cost of doing business.
"The ultimate insult came in 2021-22 when IPART announced a 0.7 per cent rates increase for a year in which inflation was forecast to run at over 6 per cent. Councils across NSW fought hard against the 0.7 per cent and, in Leeton's case, received approval for a modest increase to 1.8 per cent, but still sorely short of what is required.
"Throughout, council has also been very clear that the infrastructure backlog had yet to be addressed, which is now included in the SRV proposal.
She said independent surveys signal the majority of residents are proud to call Leeton home and value the range of services offered that make the shire an attractive place to live, work, stay and play.
It's important the community understands overall the cost of the pool project - or the Roxy or the CBD - are not the causes of the SRV proposal which aims to increase income for council's general operating fund.- Leeton Shire Council general manager Jackie Kruger
Mrs Kruger also addressed ongoing concerns surrounding the upgraded Leeton pool.
"While there was a regrettable decision with the waterslide and pool toys which is still being dealt with, we cannot lose sight of the fact our residents now enjoy a wonderfully upgraded pool complex ...," she said.
"Initially the NSW government declined our grant application and gave Griffith $10M towards a new outdoor, competition grade pool and sports complex.
"The mayor at the time (Paul Maytom) and I did extensive lobbying in parliament to convince the then Minister of Sport to award us $3M towards our upgrade too, which was successful and meant we didn't have to borrow any more money to undertake the major works required for our 50-year-old pool which had come to the end of its useful life.
"It's important the community understands overall the cost of the pool project - or the Roxy or the CBD - are not the causes of the SRV proposal which aims to increase income for council's general operating fund.
"It is years and years of unrealistic rate-pegging, the cumulative impact of the freezing of the financial assistance grant for three years, additional compliance requirements and ongoing cost shifting from the NSW government that have effectively forced council to consider a SRV.
"Critically, we are not alone - this is the same story for nearly every council outside of major metros in NSW."
In 2020-21, 60 councils posted deficits in their general fund operating results. In the last three years around 29 councils applied to IPART for some form of SRV. It is understood there will be many writing to IPART in December to signal their intent to do the same from July 1, 2023.
"I met a retired general manager last week whose council has successfully applied for five SRVs over the years to keep pace with the cost of delivering services," Mrs Kruger said.
"The reality is ratepegging is that broken that the NSW government has finally instructed IPART to review its methodology, with an issues paper released in September for comment."
Residents wanting to provide feedback on the SRV should email firstname.lastname@example.org or write letter addressed to the general manager before 5pm this Wednesday.
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