Bellingen: The little council that could?
THERE is one small but very significant line tucked away in the document setting out reasons why Bellingen Shire Council (BSC) was granted a special rate variation for the next three years.
"We found that the impact of these increases on ratepayers will be substantial but reasonable," it reads on page three of the 26-page document released by the Independent Pricing Regulatory Tribunal (IPART).
After lodging a case in February, Bellingen was this week granted the full freight of six per cent for the next three years, starting July 1.
Tax increases or rate hikes are never, ever popular, no matter how much effort goes into demonstrating the necessity for charging extra "for the public good."
But should Bellingen Shire Council and other similar sized local government bodies be granted a little more credit for the way they manage resources and limited income streams?
Particularly when state and federal governments who could once be relied upon for outrageous pork barrelling are now handing more financial responsibility to local government in a little understood process called 'cost shifting' or the better known term of 'user pays'?
It's unlikely there will be little sympathy from 101 good Bellingen Shire burghers who made written objections to the rate variation (with zero statements in favour).
Even the Bellinger Valley-Dorrigo Magpies haven't been flogged by a 101-0 scoreline lately but with those numbers there had to be good reasoning why IPART chose to approve a rise a little under three times the regulation increase of 2.3 per cent set for NSW in 2018-19.
The report maintains the BSC application met all the criteria necessary to establish a financial need and even more importantly, communicated the reasoning to the public.
It describes how the council went through the gruelling Fit For The Future process in 2014 which showed ... well, let's be blunt here ... the council was all but broke and had no way of getting its books anywhere near balanced if things stayed the way they were.
So, that led to belt tightening and cost cutting until something approaching equilibrium was established and while there's a long, dark tunnel ahead, IPART felt justified to approve a rate rise.
In return, extra money raised may only be spent on infrastructure.
Yes, common, garden variety items such as fixing bridges and resealing roads, for which each ratepayers will asked to stump up the princely sum of around $1.25 extra, each week.
Bellingen Shire has an infrastructure backlog of around $32.6 million.
Over the three year period of the special variation it has budgeted to spend $7.4 million on roads and bridges which as anybody can see is still way behind the actual need.
There's a sting in the tail that stops Council sitting by for the next three years while ratepayers grumble about all that lovely loot supposedly rolling in.
IPART will continue to check BSC is still working towards a better bottom line, so it's all hands to the pumps.
It means continuing a process that has earned this little country council the respect of much bigger councils far and wide.
Somebody within that organisation seems to have the magic touch when it comes to putting the touch on state and federal government with spare money to throw about.
It's amazing how much they know about how and when to tap into grants and funds to help improve the region without the place falling into ruin.
What does IPART have to say?
Read it for yourself here: