The Rate Rise that Didn’t Happen

During 2013 Council conducted a series of community meetings to discuss future infrastructure needs for the Willoughby area. The aim of the discussions was to acquaint people with a broad outline of the infrastructure and assets that Council is responsible for and, through Q&A sessions, for Council to better understand what people require as far as roads, footpaths, parks and playgrounds, playing fields, stormwater drainage and other council services are concerned. Generally, people told the council that they are happy with local infrastructure being in reasonable condition, not poor but also not necessarily perfect in all respects.

Council also in 2013 drew together a Citizens Panel of 40 residents and business people to help Council’s long term planning for asset expenditure. Panel members attended a series of workshops aimed at adding to their knowledge of Willoughby, its community needs and assets. Following this the panel conducted a review of Willoughby’s assets and developed recommendations which were delivered to Council in a report last August.

Using all this information together with inputs from other council departments, council officers revised the 15 year long-term financial plan which indicated that Council would need to increase rates by a greater percentage than that permitted by the NSW Government which for several years now has held annual council rate increases to around the level of the annual CPI, between two and three percent. This then led Council to a community consultation program, aimed at seeking agreement to apply to IPART for a proposed five year plan to increase rates by a total of 28.8% by 2019. This would equate to an actual increase of 32.7% over 2014 rates. The community response to the proposed variation was mixed with many saying OK to the proposal while others felt Council had not provided the community with enough information to justify the increase. As part of the community consultation over this matter, Council scheduled a public meeting for the 4th February to give people a chance to hear further details and ask questions of the council officers and Councillors.

While all this was happening, late last year the General Manager and the Senior Management Team commenced a review across the entire council to ascertain what organisational changes could be made to improve service delivery and where appropriate, reduce costs to allow funds to be allocated back to asset improvements. The loss of our Mayor, Pat Reilly, raised the spectre of the rate controversy being added to the mayoral contest so to prevent this and give the Management Team more time for their review, a mayoral minute was introduced in the February 3 general Council meeting. The effect of the minute which was confirmed unanimously, was to abandon the application to IPART for the rate variation for 2014/15 and to wait for the General Manager to report to Council by July 2014 outlining the preliminary results of the service review together with a list of cost savings and revenue raising opportunities across Council. Further, at the appropriate time to enable Council to resolve this matter prior to December 2014, an updated long term financial plan together with a community consultation plan and draft timetable is to be drawn up for a new application to IPART for a rate increase commencing in 2015/16, if the increase is still required.

Rate variations are always a contentious issue but it should be noted that Willoughby rates are among the lowest in the Sydney area and this year twelve other Sydney councils will apply to IPART for a rate variation. Willoughby enjoys all the good things a well-run community expects and it is largely through the administrative efforts of a Council that stands equal to any in the Sydney region that Willoughby is held up by many as an example of a well-managed local government area.

Courtesy: Journal of the Willoughby South Progress Association (WSPA)

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