FIREY BACKLASH: Government caves on rate hike plan
THE State Government has caved in to a backlash from local councils over a plan to hike local government fees to pay for emergency services.
Clarence Valley Mayor Jim Simmons said the plan, which would have added $260,000 to the council's fee, was a blatant example of government cost shifting.
"I'm pleased to see the government has responded to the stance of the NSW Local Government Association, the Country Mayors Association and individual councils to the plan."
Cr Simmons said his council, which was the largest in area on the Northern Rivers, would have born the brunt of the increase.
He likened the proposal to the State Government's push to force councils to pay for local government elections instead of using the NSW Electoral Commission.
"We were advised by the state government they had found this cost saving for the NSW taxpayers," Cr Simmons said.
"But it turned out the costs were just being passed on to the local government sector and ratepayers."
There were some thoughts the government had changed its mind because of a radical proposal to change the way NSW council rates were calculated.
But Cr Simmons said the proposal to calculate rates on the improved value of a property - including buildings on the land in its value - was too far off to be connected to this proposal.
The mayor said the backdown would save some council services from cuts.
"The change came late in the day, May I think," he said. "We didn't really have time to include it in budget planning.
"We would have just had to find services we could cut to pay for it."
State opposition MP for Lismore Janelle Saffin said the government had learned its lesson from the debacle.
"I hope this Government will learn a lesson from this debacle - that you don't just dump a big bill on councils, and in effect ratepayers, with scant warning or consultation and expect people to wear it," Ms Saffin said.
"No wonder the Country Mayors Association of NSW and Local Government NSW arced up and rejected such a heavy-handed approach.
"The one-year reprieve for councils is welcome because it will save our four local councils a total of $341,970 in 2019-2020 and it means 128 councils across NSW will not have to find $13.6 million out of thin air.
"The Berejiklian-Barilaro Government now should work with local councils to redesign the funding mechanism for the scheme to ensure fairness into the future."