Wingecarribee Shire Councillors have tonight voted to submit the Improve scenario Special Rate Variation to the Independent Pricing and Regulatory Tribunal (IPART) for determination.
“Tonight’s decision was without doubt one of the most difficult choices this Council has undertaken,” Wingecarribee Shire Mayor Larry Whipper said. “It was a decision no Councillor took lightly.”
“However Councillors ultimately agreed that in order for our Shire to retain our unique Southern Highlands identity and ensure our assets are maintained in-line with our community’s expectations it was necessary to apply for a Special Rate Variation.”
Applying for a Special Rate Variation was a key component of Council’s Fit for the Future proposal delivered to the NSW State Government last year, with increased funding to be earmarked to community assets such as roads, footpaths and drains. Council was subsequently deemed Fit for the Future subject to the Improvement Strategy submitted as part of the proposal which included a four-year Special Rate Variation.
The Improve scenario as nominated by Councillors would involve a cumulative increase of 45.3% in rates over the next four years if approved by IPART.
“Following the announcement by IPART in December 2015 that the Local Government Rate Cap for 2016/17 would be 1.8% instead of the anticipated 2.5%, Council announced it intended to retain the 0.7% rate deficit in its proposed Special Rate Variation,” Councillor Whipper said. “This decision was made on the basis that this additional revenue was required to ensure that Council did not go into a budget deficit.”
“However, following consideration of community feedback received during phases two and three of the Investing in our Future project, in particular concerns relating to the affordability of the proposed increases and requests for Council to find additional organisational efficiencies, this 0.7% has been removed from the scenarios,” the Mayor said.
“Residents clearly told us that if they were going to pay above the rate peg amount Council should also look at additional efficiencies within house.”
Council will subsequently implement an internal efficiency and saving program to ensure that over the course of the long term financial plan the budget will remain balanced, representing a minimum annual savings program of $234,000 or $2.689 million over ten years
The decision to apply for the Improve scenario follows several months of community consultation and a unanimous decision by Councillors late last year to notify IPART of its intention to apply for a Special Rate Variation.
Under the Improve scenario an additional $98.1 million dollars would be generated over the next 10 years of which $51.4 million would be spent on roads, road drainage, footpaths and shared pathways, $26.8 million on stormwater drainage, $15.8 million on buildings and $4.1 million on parks and open spaces.
In making the decision Councillors considered a final report prepared and presented by staff which recognised the majority of the Shire’s residents who responded through surveys and submissions during the three consultation phases supported some level of rate increase above the rate peg amount.
“Council fully acknowledges that any rate increase may be difficult for some,” the Mayor added. “And we remind ratepayers that payment options are available for those in genuine hardship.”
Residents experiencing difficulty in keeping up with their rates payments are encouraged to visit www.wsc.nsw.gov.au/services/rates for further information and options.
“Tonight’s decision marks a significant milestone in our Shire,” the Mayor added.
“It paves the way for a sustainable Shire and promises to deliver quality community services for all of our residents for many years ahead that will help deliver their aspirations and priorities as detailed in the Shire’s Community Strategic Plan, Wingecarribee 2031+.”
Council’s decision will now be submitted to IPART for determination with a decision expected in May 2016.
Should the application be approved, the year one increase would be applied to Council’s 2016/17 first quarterly rates instalment due July this year.