Armidale locals angry over rates hike

FRUSTRATED Armidale Dumaresq Council ratepayers have launched a petition against a proposed rate hike of 20 per cent.

The move follows a turbulent public meeting at the Armidale Town Hall at the weekend where anger about the proposal boiled over and planned workshops were scrapped, after ratepayers demanded to put their questions directly to the 10 councillors and staff.

At least 350 people jammed into the hall in what was one of the final chances to provide feedback on the rate variation before a submission is made to the Independent Pricing and Regulatory Tribunal (IPART) on February 24.

At a council meeting earlier in the month it was resolved to go ahead with a 20 per cent increase (not including rate-pegging) over an eight-year period.

This means a 10 per cent increase in year one, with an additional 10 per cent in year two.

This 20 per cent will remain for years two through seven, returning to 10 per cent in year eight before finishing altogether.

Among the town hall crowd was Professor Keith Cleland, who said he was asked after the meeting to draw up a petition against the proposal and circulate it around local businesses.

Mr Cleland said supporters were hoping for between 1500 and 2000 signatures and the response from businesses had been very supportive, with the majority expressing their opposition to the increase.

He and his supporters say council should be looking internally before they start dipping into ratepayers’ pockets.

Mr Cleland said just a 15 per cent increase in productivity among council staff would raise the funds council said it needed to maintain roads and critical infrastructure.

He speaks from a position of knowledge on the subject, too, having been the head of financial management at Steinbeis University in Berlin for the past 10 years.

In the past 25 years he’s consulted with businesses around the world, helping to identify and provide solutions for underlying business problems, including productivity.

Mr Cleland said the proposed rate increase couldn’t come at a worse time for the community, with many struggling with the impact of the drought.

Mayor Laurie Bishop acknowledged the concerns, but said greater efficiencies alone wouldn’t solve the underlying problem.

“We are in a position where the productivity gains to which the council is committed can’t keep pace with the long list of works that need to be undertaken to keep the city and surrounding region in a viable and sustainable position,” he said.

Residents can make written submissions to the council until 5pm on Friday.

Mr Cleland is also urging ratepayers to make a submission directly to IPART via its website.

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