31 per cent rate hike facing Lismore residents
UPDATE, 1.20pm: LISMORE ratepayers will have to fork out more money if they want to keep seeing major infrastructure projects throughout the region, according to Lismore City Council mayor Isaac Smith.
Ahead of tonight's council meeting, it has been revealed the council will discuss plans for a special rate variation totalling a cumulative percentage increase of 31.4 per cent by 2023-24.
While the council is on track for a $1.2 million budget surplus, Cr Smith said a conversation with the community needs to be had to stop future deficit crisis, similar to the one the council found itself in earlier this year when it was revealed there was a $6 million budget deficit.
"We'll spend the next 12 months talking to the community about what they want to do and putting forward the options and if they think it's a good idea then we'll move ahead with the rate increase," Cr Smith said.
"What we're proposing to talk to them about is about 30 per cent, that includes the rate pegs each year, over a five-year period and that equates to about $1 a day.
"What that will do is put an extra $5 million into our roads, then we'd put an extra couple of million into our businesses and then finally a couple of million into our parks."
Cr Smith said Lismore residents hadn't received a huge rate increase in years but it was now time to realise something drastic needed to be done to avoid future problems.
"As a city council, we have twice as many roads, twice as many sports fields, twice as many industrial and business areas as every other council around us and therefore we actually need more money to run those more effectively and efficiently," he said.
"We've just tried to be conscious of our ratepayers. Our surrounding councils have gone for 17, 15, 20, 30 per cent increases over the last few years, while we've just done the 2 per cent rate peg, but we can't just keep doing that.
"We've done everything we could over the last few years, I think our ratepayers deserve that respect and hard work from council.
"We can't continue to maintain the infrastructure the community loves unless we have a conversation about raising rates."
Cr Smith said community consultation will be a lengthy process but it is necessary to ensure residents receive the best outcome.
"There's nothing we can do at this point other than have a conversation with our community about what we do from here," he said.
"It's about making sure we consult with everyone across the community, our businesses, our farmers, our residential ratepayers about what services are provided in Lismore and what services they want in the future.
"If they clearly say to us 'you can remove a service or change a service' that will reduce a need for more rates. But if they say to us 'we're a regional city and we want all those sports fields, we want our arts and culture precinct, we want our roads' then you're going to have to pay for it.
"You can't keep running a champagne service on a beer budget."
Original story: RESIDENTS in Lismore could be facing massive rate hikes over the next four years as the council battles a $6.1 million budget black hole.
The council will tonight discuss the Imagine Lismore Revised Delivery Program 2017-2021 and Operational Plan 2019-2020.
It includes the amended four-year program of projects and annual budget, along with plans for a special rate variation.
The SRV would be staged over three to five years, starting next year, and would be retained permanently in the rates base.
The total cumulative percentage increase is 31.4 per cent by 2023-24.
- 17 per cent in 2020/21, costing the average ratepayer an extra $209
- 6.9 per cent in 2021/22, costing the average ratepayer and extra $308
- 2.5 per cent increases in 2022/23 and 2023/24.
Rate increases will also affect business owners and farmers.
The council is proposing to undertake a community consultation from August 1 this year.
A report would then be provide to the council by December.
If the council proceeds with the SRV, an application would be made to IPART in Februay 2020 and, if successful, the rate increases would take effect from July 1, 2020.
Mayor Isaac Smith, in his message to residents in the documentation, said "swift and decisive action" was needed to start reducing the deficit.
He acknowledged that the revised budgets and plans included "some tough but responsible decision-making for the long term good of our community".
General manager Shelley Oldham said reviewing the delivery program had been challenging.
"We need to have an authentic and genuine conversation with our community about what services are important to them and how we can align community expectations with financial realities," she said.
"I will improve this council and be a champion for Lismore.
"It is my goal to drive significant investment to modernise Lismore, improve infrastructure and attract new industry."
Councillors will vote on the revised delivery program and operational plan at tonight's meeting.