Ratepayers in Walcha will foot a nearly 60 per cent hike in their rates across the next three years, and residents in the Liverpool Plains will wear an 18.1 per cent increase.
On Wednesday June 14, the Independent Pricing and Regulatory Tribunal (IPART) revealed it was granting both applications alongside a dozen others from councils across the state.
"We considered everything raised in submissions including the impact of rates increases on ratepayers given current cost of living pressures," IPART Chair Carmel Donnelly said.
"We also considered the impact on communities if councils were unable to deliver services that people depend on."
Walcha struggles to keep head above water
After a bleak report revealed Walcha council's grim financial future last year, mayor Eric Noakes said the council had "no choice" but to raise rates substantially to avoid three consecutive years of deficit budgets.
IPART granted the council's application for a 36.5 per cent hike in 2023-24, plus an additional eight per cent in 2024-25 and seven per cent in 2025-26.
"It's not great. Inflation and cost of living pressures have picked up a lot on ratepayers and we're very aware of that. It's not what we'd like to do to keep Walcha sustainable, it's what we have to do," Cr Noakes said.
He said the town's relatively small size means it doesn't have the other avenues to raise revenue that other councils have, like car parking, land sales, or renting out infrastructure.
Despite being nearly ten times higher than the statewide cap, Cr Noakes says he thinks residents will understand the council's reasoning for the increase.
"We had about a 94 per cent of the community saying 'If you need it, we'll back it,' because a massive number of residents run a business and they understand money in, money out," he said.
Cr Noakes also said comparing Walcha with other councils is misleading, since rates in the town were much lower than the surrounding areas before IPART's peg was introduced.
"It's a bit of an anomaly. Our rate is lower than councils around us because when there was no rate pegging we kept our rates low, and now we're in a situation where what we collect on land is lower than our neighbouring councils on the same type of land," Cr Noakes said.
Liverpool Plains council gets its cake but can't eat it too
Residents of the Liverpool Plains will also see their rate bills increase by 18.1 per cent in the 2023/24 financial year.
Though the community generally isn't supportive of the rate hike, Liverpool Plains Shire mayor Doug Hawkins said it's necessary for the council to deliver on the services it has promised.
"This is good news as without this revenue we would have seen a faster decline in our road network," Liverpool Plains Shire Mayor Doug Hawkins said.
Without the increase, services including road maintenance, swimming pools, and child care facilities would've been on the chopping block, the town's new general manager said last month.
However, the council wasn't granted its additional request for a permanent rate variation of five per cent from 2024 onwards, which means its financial sustainability will depend on its ability to "review services and improve productivity," according to the council's long-term financial plan.
Cr Hawkins said the estimated $1.1 million in additional revenue council will receive as a result of the decision will keep the council's road network "in good shape" and be used to "to help the Liverpool Plains grow and develop economically and socially".
Armidale Regional Council
Armidale Regional Council has welcomed this morning's announcement by the Independent Pricing and Regulatory Tribunal (IPART) of its decision to approve a 58.8 percent special variation to general income residential, farmland, business or mining land rates over three years.
Armidale Regional Council Mayor Sam Coupland said ARC is one of 17 NSW councils to be approved in full or partly approved a special variation and is indicative of the difficult financial position of many councils across the state.
"Today's announcement marks a significant turning point for our region and will now allow council to address the systemic revenue problems that have plagued this council and the many iterations of it for decades in the past," mayor Coupland said.
"The current council was elected to make this a better place to live. Council has made the difficult decision now to ensure we have the services, amenities and economy that supports the vision for the region that we can all be proud of.
"It is completely understandable that the community will have concerns about the increases to their rates particularly while there are ongoing cost of living pressures, we are all feeling it. But it would have been remiss of this council not to address the long term decline in services for the Armidale region."
The special variation will be implemented from the 2023/24 Financial Year in the first rates instalment that will be distributed in July 2023. It will be staged over three years with 16.67 percent in 2023/24; 16.67 percent in 2024/25 and 16.66 percent in 2025/26.
"I want to remind ratepayers that the increase will only be applied to general income residential, farmland, business or mining land rates, the top two lines identified on your instalment, not the total amount you pay," Mr Coupland said.
"The land rates are clearly identified on your instalment and it will also be phased over three years to ease the financial impact. Some ratepayers may also experience a change to their rates due to the impact of the ongoing rates harmonisation that commenced last year."
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