The rate rise we need to have: council
MOST Clarence Valley residents can't believe the council can countenance a rate rise of 8% over five years, but its director - corporate, Ashley Lindsay, cannot see how it can be avoided.
Mr Lindsay oversees the business side of the Clarence Valley Council operations and with State and Federal government revenue drying up, the council "credit card" maxed out and pressure coming from the State Government to be "Fit for the Future", a rate rise is the only option to raise revenue to a sustainable level.
But he is under no illusions about the opposition to the proposal that will come from the community.
"Personally when I think about rate increases, I look at what we did over five years with water and sewer charges," he said.
"We put up water by 6.5% and sewer by 8.9% for five years with minimal objection from the community.
"But I don't think that will be happening this time. I think they will come out in force against this one."
Unfortunately for council staff public opposition to a rates increase will only make it harder to meet the Independent Review of Local Government's Fit for the Future benchmarks.
"One of the benchmarks is sustainability, which includes improving our revenue base," Mr Lindsay said.
"Basically that can be achieved by more borrowings, a rate variation or some sort of entrepreneurial activity."
With borrowings totalling about $135 million, the council's credit card is "maxed out" making the rate rise of 8% plus savings from cuts to a wide range of discretionary services a necessity.
"The 8% increase in rates won't be enough by itself, there will need to whole range of measures to make sure we become sustainable," he said.
One measure has been a restructuring of the council's debt to take advantage of record low interest rates.
Negotiations with the banks have yielded the council a $1.4 million saving in interest payments over the 13-year life of its loans.
Mr Lindsay said many of the issues facing the council were hangovers from the 2004 amalgamation of the Valley's four general purpose councils, plus North Coast Water and Clarence River County Council.
"There's no doubt we should have cleaned this up much sooner, but it's not something I like to look back on," he said.
"We really need to be looking at what we can do in the future, than worry about looking behind us."
Mr Lindsay said the council's priorities had changed immeasurably in the past 40 years with a host of social community interests added to the prime directive of dealing with "roads, rates and rubbish".
"When the amalgamation came everyone was saying it was going to save money, which it didn't," he said.
"That was something that we shouldn't have done.
"What happened was we joined six organisations together, and apart from losing a few senior positions, we had to find jobs for everyone."
Mr Lindsay said the appointment of general manager Scott Greensill in 2011 was a turning point.
"Since Scott's appointment we've concentrated on three main areas where we needed to improve," he said.
"We're focusing on key issues of sustainability in revenues and costs, improving service delivery and asset management.
"An example of this is the way we've dealt with the playgrounds. Each asset class has been looked at. Those with the maximum utilisation have been kept to improve services provide. Those which are under utilised have been closed."