Rate rise wrangle
By BELINDA SCOTT
ANDREW Fraser came in for strong criticism from Coffs Harbour City councillors at Thursday night's meeting after he went on television to object to the council's proposed City Facilities Program and a rate rise to pay for it.
Mr Fraser, the State member for Coffs Harbour, gave a television interview on Wednesday in which he criticised the council for its plan to complete 16 major city projects at a cost of $86.7 million over five years and to fund the bulk of this with a rate rise.
To pay for the ambitious project, the council plans to ask the Minister for Local Government to approve an 18.5 per cent rise in the general rate, on top of the 3.5 per cent rate increase approved under rate-pegging legislation.
Comparing the 'new' council to a new family unit, Mr Fraser said 'newly weds' should not expect to move into a three-bedroom house with all the trimmings, but should work towards an end. He also said Sawtell pensioners could be forced to sell their houses because of the rate increase.
The mayor, Cr Keith Rhoades, said he was disappointed with Mr Fraser's attitude of 'shooting from the hip' and it was a 'deplorable tactic saying people would be forced to sell their homes and have massive rate increases'.
He said the council had been upright and forthcoming about its plans.
"If those who like to play in the gutter would like to stand up and grow up, they are more than welcome to join us." Cr Rhoades said. "We would not be in the position we are in if Mr Fraser had worked with the State Government."
Cr Rhoades said other politicians had shown an ability to work with the government of the day even even when they were in opposition.
The deputy mayor, Cr Ian Hogbin, said it was disappointing Mr Fraser was speaking negatively about the plan without even having seen it.
Cr Rod McKelvey said as one of the 'newlyweds', he was extremely proud of what the council had come up with.
"If our local member had performed properly and got a bit of help for local government, we would not have had to ask the minister for a rate rise," Cr McKelvey said.
Cr Bonfield said the application for a rate rise was a plea for the community to be able to help itself and was all about user pays, and she was tired of seeing new orbital roads for Sydney while there seemed to be no money for regional areas.
Cr Palmer said the plan was a bold one and council had been nervous for too long about 'sticking our neck out'.
Cr Featherstone said even with the approved 3.5 per cent rise, the community would be going backwards without a further rate rise.
Cr Gavin Smithers was the only councillor who spoke against the plan, saying he was voting against it very reluctantly because he had some concerns with the City Facilities Program; would be happier with a smaller program, and had some concerns about the repayment of loans.
"But I urge the community to give it a fair hearing and say what they do want, so if we don't get the full amount (of rate rise) we can prioritise."
The council is now seeking community input into the proposal to apply to the NSW Minister for Local Government for a special rate variation to finance the city's planned program of capital improvements.
The City Facilities Program of 16 major capital works is central to the management plan, but cannot be funded without a rate rise.
Included in the program are the proposed city park, art gallery and library, museum, new sports complexes, cycleways, the entertainment centre, Hogbin Drive extension, harbourside project, work in Woolgoolga, Sawtell Headland, and Nana Glen.
The draft management plan is on display from today until June 6 at the council's administration building, all library outlets, Karangi, Coramba, Nana Glen and Red Rock stores, Corindi beach post office, Ulong Rural Transaction Centre and Coffs Harbour Visitor Information Centre as well as on council's website www.coffsharbour.nsw. gov.au
There will be a public meeting on the plan at the Coffs Ex-Services Club at 7pm on, May 12.