Rates to hop, skip ? jump

By CRAIG McTEAR

BRACE yourself ? Coffs Harbour City Council rates could soon jump by an extra $140 a year but the city will be $86.7 million in capital works better off.

The council wants to apply to the State Government for a 18.5 per cent special rate hike ? on top of the 3.5 per cent increase already approved under rate pegging.

The rise equates to $2.70 a week extra for the 'average' ratepayer. Water, sewerage and environmental levy charges would remain unchanged or drop.

In short, the rate hike results in a 6.95 per cent increase for an average ratepayer with a land valuation of $60,000 (as per rate notice).

The council's plan follows three per cent across-the-board budget cuts in the past 12 months.

The $86.7 million, five-year 'city facilities program' ? which covers 15 major projects ? would be financed by $60 million in borrowings over 15 years. This would be repaid by the increased rate income.

The $26 million balance would come from grants and other sources.

If endorsed by the community, and ultimately by the Local Government Minister, the rate rise will remain in place to pay for the maintenance of the new facilities once constructed.

The pensioner rebate will remain unchanged for 2005/2006.

"I would like to see the community join with us to move forward," the mayor, Cr Keith Rhoades, said.

"If the rate increase is not accepted, it would set the city back between five and eight years in its growth."

Cr Rhoades said councillors believed the community had wanted these projects for many years, but the existing budget could not possibly fund them.

There was also a large backlog of works to be done.

"The council believes (the plans) are best for the town. Coffs Harbour is a city on the move. We're vibrant and on the go," he said.

He felt the community would support the proposed rates increase, and admitted the works program was ambitious.

"You've got to start somewhere. In my 14 years of local government, I haven't seen councillors spend as many hours on a management plan as we have," Cr Rhoades said.

Deputy mayor, Cr Ian Hogbin, said the city needed significant infrastructure and that's what debate should focus on, not on the proposed rate hike.

"We need the lot. Let's get them all done," Cr Hogbin said.

"People can say there is waste in council or waste in the bureaucracy but this council is running tight.

"Under present operations, we can continue to tighten the belt to make it as lean as possible but that won't give us the money to deliver a broad range of infrastructure.

"We have to borrow and we have to pay it off in the future."

Councillors will discuss the draft 2005/2008 management plan tomorrow night, ahead of a public meeting next Thursday.

The plan will be on exhibition for 31 days before going back to the council for adoption on June 16.



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