Election campaigning claiming Port Macquarie-Hastings Council is seeking an extraordinary 52.4% rate rise has been quashed by the general manager as incorrect.
Craig Swift-McNair weighed into the election fray on Monday to counter rumours council is intending a substantial rate hike.
The claims have been led by mayoral candidate Peta Pinson based on council’s 2015 Fit for the Future submission.
Port Macquarie-Hastings Council’s existing 4.43% special rate variation ceases on June 30, 2017.
Coupled with that, the state government, through Fit For The Future, required all councils across the state to assess their current situation under seven set criteria, consider future financial impacts and the needs of its community.
While council adopted the submission to the state government, its recommendations also included that any future application for special rate variations associated with the Fit For The Future submission should take into account several issues, most notably, the community’s capacity to pay any suggested rate increase.
Those assurances appear to be further reinforced with the council acknowledging – in its recommendation on the matter in June last year – ‘that the 2015 submission does not bind this council or any future council to the suggested rate increases’.
IPART deemed council Fit for the Future based on its submission.
While Ms Pinson called on the incumbent council to rule out any rate rises, Mr Swift-McNair said that responsibility would fall to the new council.
“The new incoming council will be responsible for determining what level of special rate variation, if any, may be required in future years, noting that a special rate variation application can only be made following a resolution of council and no such resolution has been made,” he said.
Mayor Peter Besseling said the 52.4% rate rise campaign was ‘scaremongering’.
“There is no planned rate increase of 52.4%, no council resolution to apply for a rate increase and no application has been made for a rate increase,” Mr Besseling, a mayoral and councillor candidate, said.
But Ms Pinson remains steadfast that council’s Fit for the Future submission to the state government is a green light for a 52.4 per cent rate rise.
“Council voted on and accepted the Fit for the Future submission. That submission includes a five year cumulative action plan,” she said.
“If this council returns in its entirety then they have agreed with (council) staff to the action plan and it is a green light to make a submission to the Independent Pricing and Regulatory Tribunal (IPART) for the rate rise.”
Ms Pinson said she based her platform on coming out and telling the community ‘that we will have significant rate rises’.
“I do not have complete surety that they (council) are not going to increase our rates by February,” she added.
Cr Sharon Griffiths, who is a mayoral and councillor candidate, said the state government sought submissions to determine if councils statewide were financial into the future.
She said from that, Port Macquarie-Hastings Council determined the gap that remained in council becoming Fit for the Future under the reform process, after all other factors were taken into consideration, represented 52.4 per cent.
“I see this [knowing the target] as a positive,” she said.
“It means we know a figure we have to work to for efficiencies and savings.
“I also recognise the council needs the capacity to pay for services and infrastructure into the future.”
Cr Griffiths said she would never vote for a rate rise of 52.4 per cent, even if it did come up in the future.
She said efficiencies and savings would continue to drive that figure down.
Renegotiated loans and savings through solar power were two cost saving examples.
Cr Griffiths voted in favour of the council’s Fit for the Future submission because the submission was based on tangible information, it didn’t lock the council into a 52.4 per cent rate rise and it provided a case for the council to stand alone into the future without amalgamation.
The incoming elected council, if it decides, has until February 2017 to make application for a special rate variation.