Residents face six-year rate hike

Richmond Valley residents face a 7.5 per cent rate hike each year for the next six years or an average of around $11 a week subject to NSW Government approval.

On Tuesday Richmond Valley Council voted to apply to the Minister for Local Government for the special rate variation on an ongoing basis from the 2007/08 financial year until 2012/13.

Council staff say the rate rise is needed for maintenance and capital works and to improve services and facilities. It comes after Council identified a funding gap of $36 million.

To bridge that gap, staff said rates would have to be increased by 19.85 per cent per year for the next six years, but finance manager James Brickley said that would be difficult for the community to absorb and recommended the 7.5 per cent annual increase instead. This would generate an extra $11.1 million over the six-year period.

Projects that would be funded by the extra money are: the Mid Richmond Residents Village ($1.3m), shire-wide pool improvements including construction of the Evans Head pool ($2.5m), an upgrade of the Casino CBD ($2m), Casino CBD building works ($1.8m), urban stormwater drainage capital works ($500,000), extra road building ($1m), extra road maintenance ($1m), and improvements to Council sporting grounds and parks/gardens ($1m).

Mr Brickley said the increase was likely to cost ratepayers an average of $11 each week, inclusive of all charges such as water and sewerage.

Sure it will be difficult for some, but were hoping theyll accept what were putting forward because the community will benefit from the extra money to fund projects and enhance services, Mr Brickley said. If they dont want it, well be unable to do those things, but hopefully theyll support it. The proof of the pudding will be during the public consultation phase next year, but at the end of the day its up to the Minister.

Mr Brickley said the priority list of projects was not final and may change.

In that list we have $2 million for road construction and maintenance which we normally dont put in because we dont have it... the community tells us they want better roads so were trying to accommodate that, he said.

Casino Ratepayers and Residents Association president Owen Crawford said most ratepayers could absorb a $4 a week rise but not much more.

Mr Crawford said he wanted to know where the $2 million earmarked for the Casino CBD would be spent because were against palm trees down the middle of the road.

Evans Head and District Ratepayers and Residents Association vice-president Richard Gates questioned how the priority list was worked out because it seems to me theyre not basic infrastructure items.

The priorities should be water, sewerage and roads it comes back to fundamentals, Mr Gates said.

Mr Gates said he was concerned about the impact on ratepayers across the shire.

Rates rises need to be tempered by consideration of social issues, particularly people on fixed incomes, he said. And there must be extensive community consultation where Council actually listens to what the people have to say.

Richmond Valley Council will know by June next year whether it has approval for the rate rise.

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