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Councillor Column – 11 July 2023 – Councillor Greg Armstrong

Jul 18, 2023

For Immediate Release 11 July 2023
Authorised by Councillor Greg Armstrong

According to the Independent Pricing and Regulatory Tribunal (IPART) “In NSW the rate peg protects ratepayers from excessive rate increases, while ensuring councils receive a fair amount of income from rates which enables them to provide quality services for their communities.” – but what happens when councils want more funds?

Over the past year, the potential for a significant increase in Council rates has been raised under the label of a Special Rates Variation.

The Special Rates Variation (SRV) is a mechanism where approval is granted for general rates to be varied by an amount greater than the rate peg set by IPART.

For example, if IPART sets the rate peg at 2.5% and Council seeks an increase of 50%, then the Council would need to apply for a Special Rate Variation to vary the increase from 2.5% to 50%.

While this might seem to be a simple process, councils seeking a special variation to general income above the rate peg amount, or to increase minimum rate levels above the statutory limit, are required to submit applications to IPART for review and assessment.

There are 2 special variation options under the Local Government Act:

  • a single year increase under section 508(2), or
  • a multi-year increase (of between 2 and 7 years) under section 508A IPART reviews each application and carries out an assessment process covering:
  • Community engagement
  • Impact on ratepayers
  • Productivity
  • Financial need

Issues that are not considered in the review process include:

  • Energy rates/costs
  • Water rates/costs
  • Road repairs
  • Council funding priorities

Councils wishing to apply for an SRV for the ensuing financial year must provide IPART with notification of intention to apply for a special variation or minimum rates increase in November and lodge the application early in the following February.

To assist with community engagement, IPART publishes applications for a special rate variation on its website each February, however, councils that apply for an SRV must also consult with their community prior to applying.

I would greatly encourage all members of the broader Hilltops community to lodge a submission to Council regarding any matter relating to an SRV for Hilltops Council.

It is frustrating to note that the adoption of the recent 2023-24 budget was a policy decision by Council that directly impacted every ratepayer in Hilltops, yet I am advised that Council received less than 6 individual submissions, in contrast, a draft Policy relating to the Keeping of Animals in a domestic setting has received almost 120 written submissions plus petitions and numbers are still growing. What conclusions does one draw from this comparison?

Clearly, community engagement on the financial plight of Hilltops Council has been an unmitigated failure to date. This situation must be remedied and now is the time for change.

Keep safe and stay well,

Greg Armstrong

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