Col wants a clear answer from council
A PLAIN English explanation to the issues confronting the Clarence Valley Council's ratepayers is just about all South Grafton's Col Brown wants for Christmas.
The former builder has been a thorn in the side of the council, regularly attending public consultation events and asking difficult questions of council staff.
As a builder forced to work closely with councils, he has developed an understanding of the language they use, but fears the "laymen” among the population lose something in translation.
"Take this SRV they want to bring in,” he said. "For someone like me it's not going to have an effect.
"But for a pensioner living in their home, that money they might spend on having a nice Christmas with their family, they will have to spend that money on rates.
"What I would like the council to say in language everyone one can understand, is how does the council expect those people to afford the extra charges and why there is a need for a rate rise?”
The council's general manager Ashley Lindsay has risen to the challenge.
"The council has done everything it can to keep the prospective rate rise to a minimum, but we need to find more than $15million in savings or revenue measures by 2020/21 to meet the NSW Government's Fit for the Future operating performance ratio benchmark,” he said.
"Most of that $15million will come through savings measures and reductions in some programs, but that still leaves about a $7million shortfall.”
Mr Lindsay said if the council was to make further cuts of that magnitude it would result in the loss of many services and facilities.
"We believe it is best to come through a rate increase,” he said.
Mr Lindsay recognised many people - perhaps a majority - remain confused by their rates assessment.
"An SRV would not apply to charges such as domestic waste collection or water and sewer charges,” he said.
"For residential ratepayers, it would only apply to the general rate, which comprises the base charge and ordinary rate amount as they are identified on the rates notice.” He said the council has provided an online calculator that can simply give any ratepayer an estimate of the SRV impact. It is available at: www.clarence.nsw.gov.au
Mr Lindsay said the council has hardship policies in place for people having difficulties with payments.
Another worry for Mr Brown was the continued cost blowouts for the construction of the council's super depot at South Grafton.
In response Mr Lindsay said it was not the construction costs that had blown out, but the cost of the clean-up of the former South Grafton sewage treatment plant.
"The construction itself has gone relatively smoothly. There were some hiccups, but nothing more than you would expect on any project of this size,” Mr Lindsay said.
"What we weren't expecting was the cost of cleaning up the former sewage treatment plant.
"That had to be done as part of the decommissioning process regardless of whether there was to be anything built there, but there was much more contaminated soil on that block than the independent reports we had commissioned suggested.”