Cost of democracy could hit hip poocket

THE cost of grass roots democracy is set to rise.

Around the State, budgets for next year's local council elections could blow out by as much as 300 per cent in some shires as councils ponder indicative costings received from the NSW Electoral Commission.

In Coffs Harbour the cost will rise from $204,000 in 2004 to an estimated $329,000 in 2008.

For the smaller rural shire of Nambucca, the cost is now an estimated $93,400, up from $40,000.

Although both councils had budgeted for an increase, it was nothing compared to what they are now lumped with.

Nambucca Shire Council's acting corporate services manager, Craig Doolan, said the size of the increase was certainly a surprise.

"We'd budgeted $60,000 but now we'll have to look carefully at our services and how we balance next year's budget," Mr Doolan said.

Kyme Lavelle, assistant general manager at Coffs Harbour City Council, said they had been notified of a possible $89,000 increase.

"That will certainly cause some pain," Mr Lavelle said.

"Our position will be to seek recognition in relation to next year's rate-pegging."

According to the NSW Electoral Commission, the increases are due to a 2005 review by the Council for the Cost and Quality of Government, which identified the NSWEC was not conducting elections on a full cost recovery basis.

A spokesman for the commission said while cost recovery had been a requirement since the late 1980s, this 'had not always been done as scrupulously as it should have been'.

"We get no money from the State Government to run council elections. We have simply calculated our costs - there is no added percentage," he said.

He stressed the figures were preliminary and the NSWEC would be talking to councils in the coming months.

President of the Shires Association, Cowra's mayor, Cr Bruce Miller, said the cost increases were scandalous.

"Twenty five per cent of councils are already struggling financially," Cr Miller said.

"These increases mean funds set aside for crucial infrastructure maintenance will be lost on election administration.

"This is a classic case of the State Government cost-shifting onto Local Government.

"There has been no consultation about this."

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