Bega Valley Shire Councillors have adopted a suite of planning documents at Wednesday’s Council meeting, which includes the permanent Special Rate Variation (SRV) of 43.6% over two years. This is made up of a 24% rise from Saturday July 1, inclusive of the 4.1% rate peg for the 2023-24 financial year, and a 19.6% rise inclusive of an assumed 2.5% rate peg for the 2024-25 financial year.
The planning documents include the Delivery Program and Operational Plan, the 2023-24 budget and revenue policy, the Long-Term Financial Plan 2023-32, the Strategic Asset Management Plan 2022-25 and Fees and Charges for 2023-24.
Bega Valley Shire Mayor, Russell Fitzpatrick said the SRV will take effect from 1 July 2023 for all rateable properties in the shire.
“The decision is a difficult, yet financially responsible decision,” Cr Fitzpatrick said.
“We simply don’t have the funds needed to continue maintaining the $1.7 billion of assets we are responsible for, with $1.11 billion of those assets relating to the general fund or continue to provide the vast range of services the community relies on,” he continued.
“Our current financial position comes from rising costs, insufficient and capped government funding and Council taking on greater responsibilities over time often without choice.
“We have a responsibility to our community and future generations to remain financially viable.”
Fraser Buchanan from the Bega Valley Ratepayers Association told East Coast Radio he would rather see what he calls an “inefficient” Council cut services in the shire rather than raising rates.
“If people can’t afford luxuries they only need the basics, they don’t go and get a haircut every week and that sort of thing, so Council need to learn to do that themselves, they haven’t shown anywhere where they have cut their cloth,” Mr Buchanan said.
“People are facing real difficulties at the moment with cost of living pressures rising, interest rates going up and the cost of food and fuel going through the roof, to cop a rate hike of this magnitude, two years at over 43% is massive,” Mr Buchanan continued.
“Given we’re a low socio-economic area, this will likely cause people to not be able to afford to pay their rates, it will likely cause rents to go up, and put more people out of affordable housing and more people out on the street.”
However Cr Fitzpatrick said the rise applies to general rates only, not everything listed on a resident’s rates notice – and it shouldn’t cause rents to spike in the region.
“The rate rise in general works out at roughly $10 per week, and if that causes landlords to put rents up by substantially more than that, well they’re just taking advantage of the system, there’s no need for rents to go up by anymore than that because that’s what the rate rise is.”
“We know any increase in rates is difficult to contemplate for many in our community, but we need to take steps to reduce the ever-expanding gap between our income and expenses.
“Ratepayers are encouraged to assess the impact of the SRV on their respective properties by using the SRV calculator available on the Council’s website.”
Cr Fitzpatrick said the additional revenue into Council’s general fund means that Council can continue to focus on maintenance and renewal of the Bega Valley’s road network, improved water, sewer and waste services in collaboration with funding agencies and all levels of government, and advocate for government investment in community infrastructure to reduce future financial burden.
“We will also continue to actively work on processing DA’s to support development, completing grant-funded projects and are committed to further reviewing asset and service priorities in future years to ensure future financial sustainability,” Cr Fitzpatrick said.
“We realise that cost of living pressures are significant at the moment and want to remind our ratepayers that we offer various hardship options and a concession program for pensioners.”
Meanwhile Eurobodalla rates will go up by just 4.3% from Saturday with Mayor Mat Hatcher saying local residents shouldn’t be concerned about a potential SRV in the short term, with council aiming to tighten it’s belt.
“The rate increase passed on by iPart for the Eurobodalla is 3.7% then another 0.6% due to population growth, we’ve seen quite a growth during and post COVID but Eurobodalla ratepayers should only expect that 4.3% rise and nothing more,” Cr Hatcher said.
“I don’t think there’s any reason for Eurobodalla ratepayers to be worried about a SRV in our shire in the short term, we struck our budget on the DPOP and in that is the normal rate increase which is the minimum we can pass onto ratepayers plus that 0.6% due to growth.”
Images: Bega Valley Shire Council, Eurobodalla Shire Council