Community groups have expressed their disappointment, but also resignation, at the increased council rates which the Independent Pricing and Regulatory Tribunal (IPART) announced this week.
Central Coast Council residents will see a 15 percent rate rise next financial year, starting in July 2021.
The rate rise comes on top of harmonisation of rates applied at the same time.
Rates will be harmonised between the two former council areas of Gosford and Wyong which merged to form the one council in 2016.
This means that after the rate rise and harmonisation, ratepayers in the former Wyong area will actually notice a decrease of about nine percent in their rates, while former Gosford area residents will see increases of about 42 percent.
The harmonisation process means that the entire region will now pay the one residential rate of 0.343 cents and their actual rates will be costed on their land valuation.
The business rate will be 0.66.
The farming rate will be 0.184 and the mining rate will be 17.105.
The rate rise will only last for three years and then will be removed, minus the rate caps of the three years.
If Council wants to continue with the rate rise, it will have to apply to IPART again.
IPART said Council’s submission only showed the rate rise being used for seven years to pay down Council debt.
The fact that a Public Inquiry was being held into the Council was another reason to limit the rise to three years.
The Mannering Park Precinct Committee was “very disappointed” that the incompetence of Council had led to the current financial position, Chairman, Andrew Whitbourne, said.
“The increase in rates is a bitter pill for the community to swallow but we don’t think the loss of services that will result from no increase is a viable alternative,” he said.
Ourimbah Region Residents Association (ORRA) is also very disappointed with the outcome.
Spokesman, Allan Benson, said ORRA campaigned against the rate rise.
“We believed that rate payers should not have paid the price for Central Coast council staff incompetence and flawed NSW Government policy.”
Gwandalan and Summerland Point Peninsula Improvement Group President, Tony Kirby, said he found it very hard to trust what would happen after the three years were up.
“While the rise is only for three years, it still allows the Council to apply again for another rise,” he said.
“Forgive me for being cynical but after being kicked in the teeth by Council over the past few years, I find it very difficult to trust them.”
He said the amalgamation was ill considered because of the range of the financial states between the councils.
“The councils had different computer systems which took a large amount of money to fix, if indeed it has been fixed,” he said.
“Also, the State Government exacerbated the problem by not harmonising the rating structure before this.”
Bronwyn Evans from Toukley Community Action Group said many were unhappy with the rate rise but the bottom line was that Council needed to recover its financial position and there are no other sources of funds to do this.
“The State Government is not offering funds and it appears that funds cannot be sourced from those that have been identified as accountable for the financial situation,” Evans said.
“We need to move forward and re-establish Council on a sound financial footing.
“The approval of the temporary special variation means that the increase will be used only for this purpose and will be limited in time.
“The further requirement to report to the community on how the funds are used is a welcome step forward towards full transparency,” Evans said.
“Many in the community will suffer hardship as a result of this increase, and we would encourage Council to be considerate of individual circumstances and offer payment plans to those so affected.
“Some in the community have raised concerns on how Council manages payment plans and we encourage the newly appointed Administrator to respond to any such concerns raised with Council.
“The Public Inquiry may result in identification of additional sources of funds, and if this eventuates, we would strongly support a reduction in the special variation increase,” Evans said.
Council Administrator, Rik Hart, said that while IPART’s decision was welcome, it didn’t go far enough to provide long term financial sustainability.
“This decision makes it extremely challenging to plan for major infrastructure in the future and means that we will need two more IPART decisions in the next three years,” Hart said.
“This will result in two further years’ work of consultation, continuing to cause complications and instability for the organisation and the community.
“In December 2020, Council was required to source commercial loans in order to enable us to fund a reduced capital works program and pay creditors.
“Those commercial loans required Council to commit to terms and conditions which included asset sales, reduction in costs and a reduction in staff numbers.
“There was no ‘bail out’ from the NSW Government.
“It was said from the beginning that without a rate increase there would be further service reductions and asset sales, and sadly the community is already witnessing what this looks like,” Hart said.
“We continue to hear from the various Members of Parliament of their opposition to the rate increase, however once again, they offer no alternative.”
Parliamentary Secretary for Central Coast, Adam Crouch, said that if the decision was one that the NSW Government could make, the Local Government Minister and he would not have allowed it.
Sue Murray and Merilyn Vale