Rate rise on the cards

Central Coast Council Photo: Justin StanleyCentral Coast Council Photo: Justin Stanley

Central Coast Council held a special meeting on November 26 to give itself permission to apply for a rate rise, even though the Council hasn’t decided as yet if it wants one.

The Council is hedging its bets by allowing staff to start the process to apply for a special rate variation above the usual rate rise set by Independent Pricing and Regulatory Tribunal (IPART).

The meeting saw two people address the council before the administrator accepted the motion to go to IPART with a request for a 10 per cent increase for seven years.

The 10 per cent includes the two per cent increase already allowed by IPART.

After the meeting, Administrator Dick Persson also announced that the number of Council director positions would be reduced from nine to five or six and there would be “significant reductions” in the next level of management, the unit manager level, which currently stands at 37 positions.

When pushed for specifics, he would not be drawn on exact numbers but repeated that there would be “significant” reductions.

On the rate rise, Persson said he had a meeting with IPART last week where it was confirmed that the window was still open for the Council to apply, but that window would soon close.

He said the Council would begin the process even though a decision had not been made and no figure for any possible rate increase had been set.

That decision would be made after he handed down his report into Council’s financial woes on December 3 (see separate story).

The plain English report explaining how Council got itself into its situation would also give options for the future.

He reiterated that those options would include a rate rise, asset sales and other efficiencies.

Those options would be publicly canvassed in January and February before any final decisions were made, he said.

During the meeting, Persson discussed the reasons that contributed to the Council’s financial issues with the two public forum speakers.

When speaker, Patrick Gallagher, said that increasing rates should, as a matter of general principle, be the last resort in the campaign to return Council to solvency, Persson interjected and said he agreed.

Gallagher and the first speaker, Tony Kirby, both said that the rate harmonisation between the former Gosford and Wyong areas should be finalised before any rates were increased.

Persson said harmonisation would be in place by the middle of 2021.

But he said the harmonisation would not increase the size of the cake, it would only change the amount some people paid, not the overall total rates that Council collected.

At the beginning of the meeting, he said he had been reading social media comments.

“One of the common comments is that this is not our fault, why should we have to pay,” he said.

“Interesting perception that some people have.

“The question will get down to the different options and how we get to where we want to be from where we are.”

Later he added to those comments, saying that there was no-one else to pay: it was the people’s Council.

He explained that the Council needed to get back to having a surplus.

The Council received money through rates, fees, charges and grants.

The Council made public in early October its financial problems, saying it had immediate and serious liquidity issues and a deficit that had ballooned to $89M from earlier estimates of less than half that.

The Minister for Local Government, Shelley Hancock, stepped in and suspended the councillors for three months and installed Administrator, Dick Persson.

Merilyn Vale