Rate rise “really 8.5 per cent”

Council staff monitoring the budget meeting.

THE Derwent Valley Council’s rates increase for the coming year was closer to 8.5 per cent, councillor and mayoral candidate Julie Triffett told last week’s budget meeting in the New Norfolk Courthouse. 

Cr Triffett said the general rate would increase by 5.85 per cent but the addition of an $85 waste management charge would take the total to about 8.5 per cent.

“But that’s the difference between rates and levies,” Cr Triffett said. “The rates are our operational budget and the waste levy is put away for when the tip needs to be rehabilitated and we need to build a transfer station. Supporting the proposed budget, Cr Triffett said this year’s budget process was much more interesting and thought-provoking and much easier than in the past, and easier for her to come to terms with.
The council’s two other mayoral candidates voted against the budget, which will collect more than $7.5 million from ratepayers in the coming year.
Deputy mayor Ben Shaw said he supported the budget, describing it as one of the most transparent reports he had seen, but would not be voting for it. He said it was a responsible budget but the council had failed to fully communicate its true financial position to the public.
“Our communication is just poor. We’ve got issues that date back for many years. I’ve been asking for quite some time if we could actually bring them forward, talk to the community about it and then bring them along for the ride,” he said. Cr Shaw said these historical issues included the council’s debt level; the future of the Peppermint Hill tip site; financial reserves that were not cash-backed; poor infrastructure maintenance; poor strategic planning; and failures in communicating the need for rate rises.
Cr Paul Belcher, who has been campaigning for mayor since late last year, said he would be voting against the budget because it did not include several items that had previously been approved, referring to works on Collins Cap Rd at Molesworth, Tarrants Rd at Granton, and an investigation into sealing the remainder of Sharland Ave.
He said the council had approved an investigation into the cost of offering hard-waste collection days – as done in neighbouring councils – but this was nowhere to be seen in the budget documents. “Obviously there is a lack of communication, [but] it’s not just with the public, it’s also around the table with elected members,” Cr Belcher said.
All other councillors spoke more favourably about the budget, which passed six votes to two, after about 20 minutes of discussion.
Cr Frank Pearce had opened the debate, saying that the budget process had faced some challenges. He said a 2.5 per cent increase in salaries and wages formed a substantial part of the council’s expense, along with loan repayments.
“On top of that we have the impact of the recent storm events. While most of the immediate capital costs will be picked up by federal assistance and insurances there is still a significant ongoing cost impact on the council which has to be funded from rates, fees and charges,” he said.
Cr James Graham said the budget process had started out five per cent behind the eightball because of its fixed commitments. “It seems to me that even a seven percent rate increase would be more realistic. I’d sooner fall forward than fall back and that’s speaking as a ratepayer,” he said.
The council’s newest member, Cr Anne Salt, was elected just as the council began its budget work earlier this year. “Being my first budget, I’d like to thank that staff and everyone on the council who has assisted me in understanding the process. And as a ratepayer it has been a really interesting experience to see or understand what we haven’t had disclosed to us in the past,” she said.
“I believe this is a responsible forward-planning budget. It is focused on the cost of council doing business, operating systems and being an employer,” Cr Salt said.
Cr Barry Lathey supported the budget, noting that the forced transfer of the council’s water and sewerage assets to the state water corporation some years ago had robbed the council of half its income. “During that time since it was taken away the council has proceeded on with I daresay an increased staff and this has also impacted on the rise in the in the budget.”
Closing the meeting, mayor Martyn Evans thanked councillors and staff for their work as well as members of the public who had made submissions to the budget process.
The council meets again at 6pm today for its monthly meeting in the New Norfolk Courthouse in Circle St, starting with the recently-introduced 30-minute open session before the formal meeting starts at 6.30pm. Not notice is required for questions asked in the open session, but any submissions for the formal Question Time period must be submitted to the general manager by 6.15pm.

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