PUBLIC interest in Gunnedah Shire Council’s proposed special rates variation of 28 per cent over three years has meant upcoming community forums on the issue will start earlier than planned so everyone’s views are heard.
About 100 people attended two forums held at the Smithurst Theatre in Gunnedah in December – about 50 at each forum, council’s manager, Customer Service and Communication, Isabella Raynolds said.
Miss Raynold said all bar one of the councillors were present at each meeting, which saw plenty of feedback from ratepayers.
She said farmers, in particular, were worried about how they were going to absorb the higher-than-normal rates.
“There was some concern from farmers: they’ve got rising costs and can’t really pass those on,” Miss Raynolds said.
She said that council staff were “looking at the rating mix” and that this was the point of the community forums – to ascertain what people thought about their proposed rate increase, across commercial, residential and rural areas within the shire.
“People were willing to listen. There’s a lot more consultation that we need to do,” Miss Raynolds said.
“But, by the end of the forums (held in December) people were coming away with an understanding of our situation.”
Because of the high level of public interest, the times for all upcoming special rates variation forums have been extended by one hour
to ensure the community has the opportunity to express its views.
The forums will be held at Kelvin Hall on Tuesday, January 22; 7.30am-9.30am); Mullaley Hall on January 23, 6pm-8pm; Carroll School on January 24, 6pm-8pm; Curlewis Hall on January 29, 5pm-7pm; Breeza Hall on January 29, 7.30pm-9.30pm; Smithurst Theatre, Gunnedah on January 31, 5.15pm-7.15pm, Smithurst Theatre, Gunnedah, on February 2, 10am-noon; Smithurst Theatre, Gunnedah, on February 7, noon-2pm.
The council will apply for its special rates variation to the Independent Pricing and Regulatory Tribunal in March and should have its response from that body by June.
Gunnedah shire mayor Owen Hasler said that, like many local councils over the years, theirs had not applied for the maximum allowed under rate-pegging legislation, so the problem of lost revenue had compounded over time.
Cr Hasler said it was now at a point that “without an increase there will be further degradation of assets and services”.
He explained that if a ratepayer’s total rate bill was $1800 and the residential rate was $803, with the remainder being made up of water, sewerage, waste and stormwater, that only the $803 was subject to the level of the increase.