Democracy in action was how many phrased our most recent Council meeting on November 28, and it was wonderful to see people take an interest in a number of the Business Papers resolved at that meeting, in particular the decision for Tamworth Regional Council to apply to the Independent Pricing and Regulatory Tribunal NSW (IPART) for a Special Rate Variation in 2024.
While I appreciate that there are some in the community disappointed with this outcome, I feel it's important to reiterate why a majority of our Councillors came to this decision.
The gap between what local governments are expected to provide and the money we have to fund it is simply getting wider and wider.
The rate peg was introduced in the 1977 and designed to protect rate payers, however as inflation has increased the peg has instead limited a critical source of income for Councils. In recent years, we have also seen cost-shifting from state government services, with one example the Emergency Services Levy. There has been a reduction in state and federal government funding over recent years, all as ageing infrastructure comes to end of life and requires replacement. Meanwhile, natural disasters such as the flooding and rain events of the past few years have all accelerated the damage caused to our roads.
According to a recent survey by the Country Mayors Association, almost 75pc of member Councils in rural, regional and remote NSW had either implemented a special rate variation in the past two years, or thought they would have to do so in the next five. Tamworth is not alone in applying for a variation, and for the 2023-2024 financial year seventeen councils were granted special rate variations.
Council has looked at efficiencies and made a number of savings, and it is worth noting that the next step is an application to IPART, which will conduct stringent review that looks at the applicant Council's financial planning, asset management, service planning and other areas. Councils are required to demonstrate the measures they have already taken for financial efficiency. In other words, SRVs are only granted when a Council shows it has explored every other avenue.
I appreciate that there are a lot of cost of living pressures at the moment, however there is never a perfect time to apply to raise rates, and we have held off as long as we could.
Our Councillors and staff are members of the community who work passionately to achieve the best for ratepayers and residents, in fact many of them are ratepayers themselves. I urge the community to be respectful when having conversations with Council representatives, who are only trying to keep our water running, our roads safe, run our waste facilities, and ensure our community facilities stay open.