Ballina Shire Council general manager Paul Hickey.
Ballina Shire Council general manager Paul Hickey.

You build it, we charge you

STRUGGLING North Coast councils are being forced to pay huge rents to the State Government on facilities they built themselves using ratepayers' money.

The rent is for the land on which the councils have built facilities, using council (ratepayer) funds. The rent for some of the blocks was $1 a year when the facilities were built, but it is now $46,000 a year.

Now the councils say they've had enough and are demanding the State Government change the way it deals with councils.

At the recent Shires Association A Division conference, councils including Ballina, Kyogle, Richmond Valley and Tweed passed a motion to call for the Crown Lands department to review rental practices. The motion states that "substantial increases are being implemented across the state". Lismore and Byron are not in A Division.

Ballina Shire Council general manager Paul Hickey said councils believed the procedure was unfair.

"For example, the rent for the River St Precinct - which consists of the Ballina Library, Tourist Information Centre and Richmond Room - was originally $1," he said.

"That was then revised to around $12,000 and now ... is $46,000.

"The government argues the commercial rental value is $92,000. However they provide a 50% rebate for community use."

But this is not good enough for councils, and they have voted to write to the Crown Lands Division of the Department of Primary Industries.

A spokesman for the division said they had not yet received any correspondence from the association.

He said the government would consider any proposal.

"Council occupancy of Crown land covers a range of circumstances ranging from market rental to no rental with a range of discounts in between depending on the nature of the occupancy," the spokesman said.

"Hardship issues are addressed on a case-by-case basis."

Mr Hickey said another problem was that community facilities often operated at significant losses to the councils.

"We are providing services (at the River St precinct) at a cost of around $800,000 per annum," Mr Hickey said. "Plus, we built the facilities back in the 1980s."

Negotiations are still under way for the rent for the Lennox Head Cultural and Community Centre.

And facilities that have not been built yet, including Ballina surf club, the Marine Rescue tower and the proposed sports and events centre on Kingsford Smith Oval will be subject to the same processes.