Council bears the brunt of government cost shifting exercise

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With reference to the proposed Yass Valley special rate increases, I feel that it is important to keep in mind how this has come to pass.

Yass Valley Council’s current financial situation can be traced back to the NSW government decision in 1977 to “peg” council rates so that they rose by an amount slightly less than inflation. Amalgamations at this point in time reduced the total number of councils by 21.

From 324 councils in NSW in 1910, only 152 were left after a century. In 2004, the number of councils was again reduced, by 22, and the present Yass Valley council was created.

Despite these amalgamations in the name of efficiency, councils were still having increasing difficulty in finding the resources to maintain assets and provide services. This was not helped by state government cost shifting to local government, for example, making swimming pool and sewerage tank inspections mandatory and requiring local government to carry out these inspections below cost.

In recent times, the state and federal governments have had to provide increasing amounts as grants for urgent works to local government in NSW to help councils who no longer had the ability to meet these costs.

It is clear that the current Fit for the Future exercise is designed to overcome the damage done by the state government’s rate pegging exercise, in a way that transfers at least part of the political heat back on local councils.

The events of the last six months amply demonstrate this agenda. Yass Valley Council approached the Fit for the Future process in good faith, proposing five years of rate increases to address our infrastructure backlog.

The Federal Government then unexpectedly gave us a large increase in funds for infrastructure. Council then calculated that we could address our backlog by using this money in lieu of the first year of rate rises. The State Government’s IPART reacted to this proposal by declaring the council unfit! Clearly, this was a message to us to increase our rates regardless of the additional grant monies.

I ask readers to keep in mind that this whole exercise is designed to shift costs for local government from the state government to local ratepayers, and that Council really has limited say in what is happening to your rates.

Yours Sincerely,
Greg Butler  (Councillor)

*Views expressed are his own and not necessarily that of Yass Valley Council.

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