SRV: 'We had no other choice'
CHOKING back tears, Clarence Valley councillor Karen Toms was among the councillors who backflipped on their election promises not to hike up Clarence Valley rates.
The Special Rate Variation was again centre stage at Tuesday's council meeting, with seven councillors voting to pass on a 25.9% total rate rise to property owners over three years.
A pre-election survey by The DEX pinned four councillors against the SRV and only two, Cr Debrah Novak and Cr Greg Clancy, remained true to their word.
Cr Toms said voting for the SRV was a hard pill to swallow.
"I made declarations that I wanted better financial management and I wouldn't support the SRV and I wouldn't support excessive rate increase," she said.
"But I've had to change that position.
"When I had that position, I truly meant it... but now I have a lot more information and after a full day with the Office of Local Government (I have changed my mind)."
Cr Toms said despite the community backlash, the councillors had to make the decision.
"It's easy to criticise, people think we do the wrong thing, but the reality is that the councillors make the best decisions they can," Cr Toms said.
"I did change my mind over the SRV and that was also a very difficult decision to make, but I have to make it and I do believe I didn't have a choice."
The adopted recommendation included a detailed report which outlined that from 2017/18 to 2019/20, the council would make $15,566,987, which is more than the council's total debt of $15,343,127. The rates rise is to be rolled out 8% each year over three years which will amount to an expected total of $7.8million in revenue to come from the SRV.
Seven of the nine councillors voted for the SRV recommendation.
It will go to community consultation at the May council meeting.
Cr Novak stood by her election promise of not voting for the SRV because that was what the community wanted but also praised how the decision-making progress was handled.
"I was grateful for all the workshops because I have so much more knowledge now than what I had six months ago," Cr Novak said.
"The directors and the acting general manager have laid everything out on a plate for us so we can make an informed decision."
Cr Peter Ellem said the council had no choice but to make the unpopular decision.
"I believe that it is the shared responsibility of the nine duly-elected councillors, and not that of a financial controller or administrator, to adopt a draft package of job cuts, to be made in full consultation with the United Services Union, efficiency savings, and regrettably rate increases, to be put up for community consultation," Cr Ellem said.
"As a new councillor I am wiser because we have demanded and recently received more detailed information on the operational side of things, and greater clarity from the Office of Local Government."
Cr Ellem said fixing the $15million "black hole" which the new council has inherited from a "clunky forced amalgamation" needed addressing.
"My personal preference would be for the SRV component of this suite of measures to be lower than the 8% per year, but when we consult with ratepayers and residents in coming months it will become clear that a lower SRV will mean deeper cuts to local jobs and valued, if not cherished, services," he said.