Comment and reply: The Richmond Valley Council rate rise

Ratepayers being driven to poorhouse

THERE is no question councils on the Northern Rivers are doing it tough - and they'll be doing it even tougher after the Federal Government froze indexation increases on its grants to councils in its budget last week.

However, hard as it may be for a council, things are even tougher for the residents it serves.

The release of Richmond Valley Council's budget has come with rhetoric about the need for "austerity" within the council, along with a substantial sting for its ratepayers - a 2.3% increase in rates (the maximum allowed under rate capping), and increases of 5% in water and 3% in sewerage charges.

It'll get even worse if the State Government backs a council plan to lift rates 12% this year and another 5.2% each year for four years.The council argues this money is needed for an ambitious spending program ranging from road repairs and maintenance to providing free wi-fi at Casino, Evans Head and Woodburn.

There are no doubt sound arguments about the benefit of things such as the wi-fi, showground upgrades, and beautifying the Woodburn riverfront, in attracting and developing businesses jobs. I'm not disputing them.

The question is how is this going to impact on the ability of ratepayers to put food on their tables, pay their electricity bills and buy their kids textbooks for school.

In an area already known for its low incomes (Casino was listed among Australia's most disadvantaged towns only a few years ago) the impact is likely to be hard - particularly after the passing of a Federal Budget that seems intent on punishing the poor.

Council general manager John Walker and Mayor Ernie Bennett have shown real vision in developing their wish-list of projects for the council area and it would be great to see them all done, but not at the expense of the people the council is elected to serve.

- Acting editor, Alex Easton

Rates rise justified

I REFER to Alex Easton's opinion piece on Richmond Valley Council's 2014/2015 budget and proposed rate variation (NS22/5).

Firstly, I would like to say the headline accompanying the opinion piece was obviously designed to shock readers, rather than provide an accurate account of budget measures.

It is also a little unfair to single out Richmond Valley Council. We are one of the last councils in the region to bring down a budget, yet I'm hard pressed to find previous articles criticising Lismore, Ballina, Byron, Kyogle or Tweed for implementing the exact same rate rise.

A lot of thought was given to raising rates and seeking a special rate variation, however, our rate base is so low it is unsustainable and not acting would leave RVC at the bottom of the pile.

RVC's average ordinary residential rates are $478 per year less than the highest council on the Northern Rivers and $286 per year less than the state average.

Clearly, the Federal Budget has spooked a lot of people but this should not derail us from a proper plan to invest necessarily in infrastructure.

We went through every line item to see where we could save money. We are working hard to strike a fair balance between keeping rates down and providing for future growth.

While the council expected to receive some "rates rage" over this decision, we do not appreciate the negative views of armchair commentators who do not live here or appreciate our concerns.

- Richmond Valley Council general manager, John Walker