Clarence Valley Council director - corporate Ashley Lindsay.
Clarence Valley Council director - corporate Ashley Lindsay.

Residents wary of council at first meeting

MACLEAN residents are going to need a lot of persuading if they are to agree to an 8% rate hike to help council balance its books.

At the first of two meetings to discuss Clarence Valley Council's operational plans and finances in Maclean tonight, about 40 residents listened patiently as the council's director - corporate Ashley Lindsay explained the draft budget and operating plan for 2015-16.

These included plans to rationalise council assets, restructure loans and move money from cash accounts into the council's general fund.

Mr Lindsay outlined how the council only reached two of seven financial benchmarks the State Government set for council as part of its local government Fit for the Future campaign.

An integral part of the council becoming Fit for the Future is the Independent Pricing and Regulatory Tribunal (IPART) granting the council a rate rise of 8% from 2016-17.

During question time residents quizzed Mr Lindsay about the implications of this.

Supermarket owner Bob Little said there was a push for Maclean to pay the same rates as Grafton, but he saw no evidence of an increased level of service to the Lower River community.

Maclean Chamber of Commerce member Denise Worrill received a burst of applause when she asked Mr Lindsay if council had considered if the ratepayers could afford to pay the extra rates, which would amount to a 46% increase over five years.

Many of the questions revealed a resentment among residents of the 2004 amalgamation of councils.

Former Maclean Shire councillor Bill Day said the Lower Clarence did not trust the council because it had raised rates in Maclean, Yamba and Iluka, while freezing the fees in Grafton.

"How can we be sure people in Iluka, Yamba, Maclean and Townsend are not paying 16% extra while Grafton pays nothing?" he said.

Mr Lindsay said rates have never been frozen in Grafton. He assured the meeting an 8% increase would impact equally on all the rates categories.

"Council would go through the normal consultative practices it goes through each year before it sets its rates," Mr Lindsay said.

The council general manager Scott Greensill said there were no forced amalgamations on the horizon for the council.

He said smaller councils closer to the major metropolitan areas were being targeted ahead of regional councils.

But he said it was necessary for the council to meet its benchmarks so the government did not come looking for it in the future.

A second public meeting will be held in the Grafton Council Chambers on Thursday at 5.30pm.

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