No residential rate rise...

Lismore residents won’t be hit with an extra rate rise but business may be.

On Tuesday evening after hours of debate Lismore City Council voted to apply to the NSW Minister for Local Government for a special rate variation for ‘Business Promotion’ for a total of $100,000.

However it is by no means certain that the state government will accept Council’s application for an increase to the business rate of 0.44%, as Mayor Jenny Dowell was told by a senior member of the Department of Local Government to “not bother” if Council were to apply for an increase of less than half a percent.

Councillor David Yarnall put up an unsuccessful motion that Council apply for a rate increase to the residential rate of $800,000 across residents ($500,000 for roads, $200,000 environment levy) and business ($100,000 for business promotion); increase the pensioner rebate by $30 and engage the community in workshops.

“This is not an easy decision and I have thought long and hard on this and wondered what the best solution is and compromise is the only way: community good above personal pain,” Cr Yarnall said. “No doubt any rise will cause some individual pain but as a council we also have to look at what is the common good.

“If this rate variation doesn’t go ahead our roads will deteriorate. With this increase 2km every year will be achieved. This is critical, it’s not just potholes, it’s safety. There have been many past mistakes but we are stuck with them and we cannot simply wipe the slate clean. There is no hidden pot of money in our funding, no miracles pile that the GM has stashed in his office for a rainy day.”

Cr Peter Graham foreshadowed a motion for no variation at all, saying there had been overwhelming community support for that option and that the farming community spent thousands of dollars on environmental protection and that it would be unfair to impose another cost.

Cr Simon Clough said he would support Cr Yarnall’s motion because of the rebate to pensioners.

“We’re currently losing one species a day on this planet. One of those affected species one day could be us; obviously $200,000 is not going to solve that but it could make a significant difference. We are the second most biodiverse area in Australia...

“Lismore has been way behind in environmental funding for a long period and it’s time we caught up. We have the personnel ready, $200,000 will make a significant difference. This is an opportunity for once in a lifetime to make the sort of difference long term for the children and grandchildren of our community.”

Cr Neil Marks said Council needed to build credibility with the community before they could ask for more money.

“In comedy you have to get the timing right or it ends up being a bad joke and I don’t want to see Council end up a bad joke because of timing,” Cr Marks said.

Cr Ray Houston said he supported the rate rise, along as the pensioner rebate was included, and that Council couldn’t respond to community pleas to fix the roads and the environment without the extra money.

Cr Gianpiero Battista wanted Council to fix things and stop losing money before going to the community for a rate rise.

Cr Vanessa Ekins said there had been a lot of support for the environmental levy and she thought the community consultation forums had not been representative of the community, as they had consisted of mainly older men and very few women or young people.

Cr Graham Meineke said Lismore already had the highest rates in the region and related a story about the late Kerry Packer’s response to a Senate Inquiry, when asked if he’d be willing to pay more tax.

“Packer said ‘I don’t see why I should pay you more money when, quite frankly, I’m not happy with what you do with what I pay you anyway,’ and that’s the message we got from the community forums we held,” Cr Meineke said. “I’m surprised Cr Yarnall is going against the community. He voted for the community with Champions Quarry and McLeans Ridges and all of a sudden he’s against the community, adopting centralised democracy or elected dictatorship.”

In an unusual move Mayor Jenny Dowell joined the debate, saying that the community deserved to hear her views.

“It’s clear that Council needs this money but it’s also clear many in the community told us that they can’t afford it... but the increase to pensioners of an extra $30 (will help).

“Many people in the community do not trust this council. The online forum with the mask of anonymity brought out the most hateful aspects I’ve ever seen in this community, it’s been a disgrace. I know that some people have an axe to grind, and I know there is some strong political opposition particularly of me, but above and beyond that, it’s the issue of affordability that’s resonated with me.

“We were elected to lead, and we should make a decision on what’s right and I believe this rate variation is right. I don’t want to condemn future councils to wallow.

“I believe it will make a difference so, if people do not want this, that is the price I am prepared to pay for what is right, just and fair, especially if the $30 rebate gets up. That’s where I stand and lay myself out in front of the community.”

Cr Yarnall’s motion went down 5/6 (Crs Yarnall, Ekins, Clough, Houston, Dowell for; Crs Graham, Marks, Chant, Smith, Meineke and Battista against).

Cr Graham’s motion to not apply also went down but finally Cr Isaac Smith’s motion for only the business rise got up 7/4 (Crs Houston, Dowell, Yarnall, Graham against).


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