If you a ratepayer, you are probably be aware Byron Shire Council is planning on increasing our rates. Under the guise of community consultation they are softening the blow by pretending we have a say in the matter. Public comment is now closed but there will still be lots of discussion on this topic in the months to come.
Residents are being asked if you want a bad, nasty or outrageous rate hike to be phased-in in over four years. Option 1 is 7.5% per annum rise (standard rise which was coming anyway) and a cumulative increase of 33.5% over 4 years. Option 2 is a 10% increase amounting to 46.4%, or option 3 will slug us with a 60.2% increase over the whole four years.
Most LGAs calculate rates by a percentage of the property valuation as estimated by the NSW OSR (Office of State Revenue). There are extra charges as well if you have your rubbish picked up and are on town water, etc. If, for example, you are currently paying $1500 PA then if option #3 is approved you will be paying $2,403 in four years time.
The recent Council elections were all about roads, roads, and roads. The electorate was saying “Fix them, fix them, fix them!” The only way they can do that is to get more money and the simplest way to do that is to increase the rates. Council is saying only the highest, most outrageous increase, # 3, will deliver an improvement in infrastructure. The lesser two will merely keep us in a holding pattern with a gradual decline in the infrastructure and assets.
There is, of course, another option which is only available if you log on to the council website and go to the feedback section. This is to ask for no increase at all. The outcome of this is that BSC will no longer be “Fit For the Future”, fail the regular NSW State audit, and in due course be amalgamated with another neighbouring shire. There are more than a few residents who think this would be a good thing.
Either of the two extremes is the best in my opinion. No increase and eventual amalgamation, or option 3 with the highest increase and give Council the funds they need to do a good job.
This imminent rate increase has invariably bought up the perennial question: “How can we get the tourists to pay?” This is more than reasonable and something that has also been discussed ad nauseam over the years. Byron Shire has over 1.3 million visitors every year. They drive on our roads, pee in our public toilets and leave their rubbish on our beaches. Some of them pee on our roads, drive on our beaches and leave rubbish in the toilets. Scoundrels, let’s make ’em pay!
There are a few possible scenarios doing the rounds at the moment. The most common request has been for a bed tax. This is a surcharge of hotels, motels and B&Bs, which would go to council coffers. The problem is there is no legislation that exists that would allow this. The loophole is to make it voluntary. Call it an “Environmental Levy” (protecting the rainforests and koalas – who could complain?) and guests are allowed to opt out if they wish. Port Douglas shire in Far North Queensland successfully introduced it. In 2014, the Gold Coast were looking at it to repair storm-damaged beaches. It is common in UK and USA, as well as Europe where it has a star-rating system – top-end venues charge more tax.
There seems to be mixed messages about this option. Discussions I had with Mayor Simon has had him indicate that a bed tax policy will be pursued in the new year. The Echo happened to report that GM has said it will never happen. It will also inflame the problem that already exists between the established tourist operators and the casual AirBNB market. “How can we make these scoundrels pay their fair share?” will be echoed through the hills. One idea doing the rounds is Council could/should charge the developer contribution (retroactively, if possible) to all those who dodged the developer contribution ($25K approx.) on a legal granny flat and then decided to holiday let it to tourists instead of joining the permanent rental pool.
If we want good roads and infrastructure then we need to pay for it somehow. Whether the Council is spending its existing budget wisely is not the topic here. There are other ways for Council to raise funds of course – PPP (Private Public Partnerships) where Council enters into joint ventures with commercial partners to better utilise Council-owned lands is one I believe some councillors are currently looking at.
No one wants to shell out more money than they need to. Council is making a fair case that this is the best way forward to repair our needy infrastructure; we need to contribute. Especially since it has been the main vocal issue for some time now. If we don’t do this and still scream and moan, that will be a bit sad, even though it seems like a lot of us just love to complain. To me, its either of those two options: amalgamate or go get funded