Planned rate increases

bridgeRecently you should have received a coloured 4 page brochure from Council titled ‘Community Assets’ containing ‘important information about a proposed infrastructure levy” An infrastructure levy is another name for a proposed rate increase.

It is common knowledge that over the past decades Councils have allowed their physical assets (buildings, roads, parks, footpaths, playgrounds and the like) to deteriorate whilst they increased the range of social services (often competing for clients against the State and Federal Government (as well as private enterprise). This situation has been exacerbated by the State Government’s Rate Pegging which doubly hit Willoughby because that had traditionally low rate.

Now the rooster has come home to roost. Council is trying to rapidly address its deteriorating infrastructure. (This issue is also a driving force in the State Government’s encouragement for Council’s to amalgamate).

Just prior to the recent Mayoral election, the Council Officers had prepared a report on this issue. However, the Councillors deferred consideration of the report. In doing so, they directed the General Manager to investigate where interna; saving could be made.

In Table 2 (p.3) Increased efficiencies and other income sources there is notation of a $500,000 saving in year 1 with sequent year savings on $1,000,000. However, there are not any details of how these savings are to be achieved. It looks like someone has picked a number out of the air and dumped it in the report. Later on, when finances become more dire and planned savings have not been achieved, we will likely be advised that this was a ‘planning’ figure only. We need to see the details of these proposed cost savings. (average $1M pa)

It is planned to generate more revenue from car parks. That will probably mean more and higher costs to park in Chatswood. (Average $150,000 p.a)

Advertising ‘bollards’ are slated to raise millions over the coming years (Average $400,000).That sounds like a hell of a lot of advertising bollards.

It is claimed that bus shelters will bring in an average of $800,000 p.a. However, this requires more explanation as Willoughby has always received revenue from bus shelter advertising. So is this truly new revenue?

Finally, the expectation is for another $200,000 per annum from Parking fees in the CBD. An interesting thing about this specific proposal is that the figure is not even indexed – just a straight $200,000per annum.

In summary, what we have been presented in Table 2 is the classical mushroom room farming approach: stick them in a dark space and feed them lots of ….”

 Levy Options

Council has prepared four different levy scenarios:

Scenario 1 is the ‘crash & burn’ one. Standard rate pegging but no money to fix decaying infrastructure.

Scenario 2 leaves a 20% shortfall in required funding.

Scenario 3 meets the renewal gap over the next 7 years and logically should be the one to consider if we can afford it.

Scenario 4 leaves a 5% required funding shortfall.

What would Scenario 3 entail?

Currently, the average residential rates & levies total $1,417.50. Under Scenario 3, for next year, the average would be $1,480.51 ($63.01 increase). Both Scenarios 2 & 4 would incure an average increase of $67.45 next year.

 Community feedback is open to 5pm on 21st October 2014

Planned rate increases

 

Recently you should have received a coloured 4 page brochure from Council titled ‘Community Assets’ containing ‘important information about a proposed infrastructure levy” An infrastructure levy is another name for a proposed rate increase.

It is common knowledge that over the past decades Councils have allowed their physical assets (buildings, roads, parks, footpaths, playgrounds and the like) to deteriorate whilst they increased the range of social services (often competing for clients against the State and Federal Government (as well as private enterprise). This situation has been exacerbated by the State Government’s Rate Pegging which doubly hit Willoughby because that had traditionally low rate.

Now the rooster has come home to roost. Council is trying to rapidly address its deteriorating infrastructure. (This issue is also a driving force in the State Government’s encouragement for Council’s to amalgamate).

Just prior to the recent Mayoral election, the Council Officers had prepared a report on this issue. However, the Councillors deferred consideration of the report. In doing so, they directed the General Manager to investigate where interna; saving could be made.

In Table 2 (p.3) Increased efficiencies and other income sources there is notation of a $500,000 saving in year 1 with sequent year savings on $1,000,000. However, there are not any details of how these savings are to be achieved. It looks like someone has picked a number out of the air and dumped it in the report. Later on, when finances become more dire and planned savings have not been achieved, we will likely be advised that this was a ‘planning’ figure only. We need to see the details of these proposed cost savings. (average $1M pa)

It is planned to generate more revenue from car parks. That will probably mean more and higher costs to park in Chatswood. (Average $150,000 p.a)

Advertising ‘bollards’ are slated to raise millions over the coming years (Average $400,000).That sounds like a hell of a lot of advertising bollards.

It is claimed that bus shelters will bring in an average of $800,000 p.a. However, this requires more explanation as Willoughby has always received revenue from bus shelter advertising. So is this truly new revenue?

Finally, the expectation is for another $200,000 per annum from Parking fees in the CBD. An interesting thing about this specific proposal is that the figure is not even indexed – just a straight $200,000per annum.

In summary, what we have been presented in Table 2 is the classical mushroom room farming approach: stick them in a dark space and feed them lots of ….”

 

Levy Options

Council has prepared four different levy scenarios:

Scenario 1 is the ‘crash & burn’ one. Standard rate pegging but no money to fix decaying infrastructure.

Scenario 2 leaves a 20% shortfall in required funding.

Scenario 3 meets the renewal gap over the next 7 years and logically should be the one to consider if we can afford it.

Scenario 4 leaves a 5% required funding shortfall.


What would Scenario 3 entail?

Currently, the average residential rates & levies total $1,417.50. Under Scenario 3, for next year, the average would be $1,480.51 ($63.01 increase). Both Scenarios 2 & 4 would incure an average increase of $67.45 next year.

 Community feedback is open to 5pm on 21st October 2014

The City of Willoughby and Chatswood is a great place to live, however, like those before us, we may need to make some sacrifices to maintain our quality of life.

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One thought on “Planned rate increases

  1. Dear Mayor and Councillors
    Proposed Infrastructure Levy – Willoughby City
    Before making any final decision on the proposed infrastructure levy, please consider the following observations:

    1. Council should consider itself under an obligation – before making any final decision – to engage with the community in a genuine and effective way. The IPART guidelines effectively impose this obligation.

    2. A genuine and effective engagement requires a full and frank explanation to the community of the reasons why a local council with over $100M of annual income finds itself in this current predicament. It is not enough to simply say there is a problem and then exhort ratepayers to work with Council to find a solution.

    3. Without this explanation, the community cannot properly decide whether Council’s personnel deserve the community’s trust and support with additional ratepayer funds. Without accountability, citizens will disengage and the community will be undermined as vested interests take control. Mistakes will be repeated ad infinitum.

    4. Council’s attempts to engage with the community in this matter have been an abject failure: a small sample of some 200 citizens, a “Community Assets” circular to all residents explaining the need for extra funding (but not the true reason for the funding gap) and, finally, two public meetings, each attended by only some 15-20 citizens.

    5. Council has vast resources at its disposal: it is difficult to believe it could not formulate a process that would see more than some 40 people out of 73,000 turn up to its two public meetings. An invitation to engage is not, of itself, an actual “engagement”. Council must bring about an actual and meaningful engagement.

    6. The first thing Council can do to facilitate an effective engagement is to make a full and frank admission of its past failings that have caused this current predicament, especially since Council first published the predicament as far back as June 2012 in its Financial Plan. On 5 August 2012, Fairfax reported on this Plan and correctly identified the primary cause as being Council spending some $200M on The Concourse, without State funding.

    7. No remedial action was taken; instead we had the absurd spectacle of Council officials denying the correctness of its own publication. They seemed to treat any criticism of The Concourse as a personal affront. And therein lies the problem: sentiment has no place in money matters, especially when the money belongs to ratepayers.

    8. At the public meeting on 9 October 2014, General Manager Tobin stated The Concourse is already turning a profit. This is, with respect, implausible. Are we truly to believe this Chatswood facility can do something the infinitely superior Opera House has been unable to do over its life (unless assisted by Government) ?

    9. The only way The Concourse could be making a “profit” is for certain costs associated with the project to be excluded and for other revenues to be included, for instance, rent from associated commercial tenancies.

    10. It is a matter of separate concern that Council has – with The Concourse project – exposed ratepayers to the vagaries of the commercial property rental and maintenance market: another ticking time bomb.

    11. Apart from a proper mea culpa on The Concourse and a proper disclosure of precisely how much of local ratepayers’ money continues to flow into this regional project, Council must cease its practice of passing over control of our community assets to vested interests for their commercial advantage.

    12. The writer has provided you with indisputable proof that Council has handed over various precious community assets to vested interests to allow them – not the community – to generate substantial annual revenue whilst paying a fraction of commercial rents or rates. Council’s actions in this regard prove the disingenuous nature of its statements that it has properly identified additional income earning opportunities and is controlling costs.

    13. Following points 11 & 12, may I ask this question: if Council is prepared (with The Concourse project) to take ratepayers into the dangers of the commercial property market, why does not Council take back control of all community facilities like Talus, Willis Park and Northbridge Oval so that the huge revenues currently being generated
    from these community assets are derived by the community, not vested interests? One could be forgiven for concluding councillors have become hostage to various vested interests because of a perception those interests have some political clout come re-election time. It is time councillors lost their paranoia about the supposed influence of
    these various groups, who like to portray their own interests as being the “community interest”. They overstate the importance of their email database.

    In conclusion, if you want a proper engagement with the community you must first accord it the respect it deserves and be truthful in your disclosures of the true reasons for the current predicament.

    Kind regards

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