Clarence Valley Council mayor Jim Simmons.
Clarence Valley Council mayor Jim Simmons. Adam Hourigan

Council faces its fiscal reality

RATEPAYERS will have 3.2% slashed from their base rates in 2017/18 after Clarence Valley councillors voted down a proposal to apply for a special rates variation.

The vote, at an extraordinary meeting of the council in Maclean on Tuesday, means the one-year SRV for 2016/17 will be removed from the base rate, dropping the base rate by 4.7%.

Mayor Jim Simmons said the council would implement the 1.5% rate pegging limit, giving ratepayers an overall benefit of 3.2%.

But there was a sting in the tail, he said.

"The loss of 4.7% or $1.3million from the current rate income for 2017-18 will mean ... a lot more service cuts," he said.

"(The) council will also have to increase its fees for the services it provides. Right across the board we'll have to raise more money."

Cr Simmons could not identify from where the cuts could come, but thought it likely to be isolated to specific areas rather than across the board.

In place of the defeated motion, the council voted - with some amendments - for a motion from Cr Andrew Baker.

His eight-point plan called for the council to achieve a "nil deficit" budget allowing the council to meet its Fit for the Future requirements through the creation of an Infrastructure Backlog Accelerated Reduction Reserve of $17.7 million and other cost-saving measures.

The reserve would be funded by switching the council heavy and light fleet procurement to leasehold, freeing up $10million from the fleet reserve fund.

He estimated there would be savings of $8.6million until 2021 from the application of this policy which would help the reserve reach its target.

Cr Baker also promised no job losses by having council employees do work farmed out to consultants and contractors.

Cr Simmons said the more immediate problem for the council was the vote made it impossible for the council to meet an Office of Local Government deadline of midnight Wednesday for its Fit for the Future Reassessment.

He said he planned to call the OLG yesterday to explain why the council could not make its submission and secure an extension of the deadline.

"The general manager will write to them today, basically sending them Cr Baker's resolution and a covering letter outlining the outcome of the meeting,"

he said.

The mayor said whatever happened, the State Government required the council to address its infrastructure backlog and return to a balanced budget.

"The major infra- structure backlog is roads," he said.

"(The) council has to put more money into roads. It's as simple as that."

The council's resolution pleased its workforce, said the northern organiser of the United Services Union, Craig Chandler.

Mr Chandler said about 90 of his members on the council staff arranged with council management to take time off on annual leave to be at the meeting.*

"When we arrived for the meeting we had real concerns about possible job losses and the effects that would have on their families and the community.

"We weren't expecting Baker's motion, but members were really happy with his point five, which guaranteed no nett job losses.

"The union is happy to work with the council to achieve the efficiencies needed to guarantee this happens."

Mr Chandler said it was up to the general manager and the executive staff to ensure the proposals were a success.

"What we've got to do is watch the general manager and his executive to make sure they perform," he said.

*Correction at 12.57pm Friday, from a claim the action was a stopwork. 

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