4 November 2022

"Close toilet blocks": Leeton residents urged to respond to new survey canvassing alternatives to rate hike

| Oliver Jacques
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Two women standing

Residents Anna Ellen and Kathleen Siemoinow after a community consultation session on the proposed rate increase. Photo: Oliver Jacques.

Closing toilet blocks, increasing pool entry fees and cutting council staff and wages have been suggested by Leeton residents as alternatives to a proposed rapid rate hike by their council.

Residents will have until Wednesday 9 November to respond to a new online survey canvassing ideas to counter Leeton Shire Council’s suggested rate increase of 52 per cent over just two years, following a community backlash against the mooted change.

The local government body had been considering a special rate variation – a tax increase much higher than what the NSW Government usually allows them to make. The council wanted to make an application to the NSW Government body the Independent Pricing and Regulatory Tribunal (IPART) to lift rates by what would amount to an annual rise of about $530 for the average household.

READ MORE Riverina council softens stance after residents’ outrage at proposed 52 per cent rate hike

But after a series of heated community consultation sessions, where many residents voiced their strong opposition to the plan, the council released an online survey which:

1] Proposed spreading the rate variation over four years instead of two, and
2] Sought community feedback on which council services they felt could be cut.

A crowd looking at rate rise info

A community information session on the rate rise. Photo: Oliver Jacques.

The first survey allows residents to simply choose which option they would prefer: a 52 per cent rate rise over the next two years or a 61 per cent increase gradually spread over the next four years.

The second survey is a community feedback board, on which the council lists all the services it provides as well as the annual cost of each service. For example, the Leeton Shire library is listed as costing $460,000 and Whitton Pool, $100,000. Residents are asked to “post your thoughts about which ones are important to keep and which ones you think could be cut or reduced in the future to improve the financial sustainability of the general fund”. Responses posted are publicly visible, though participants do have the option of maintaining anonymity.

As of Wednesday 2 November, the feedback board had received 22 ‘ideas’. Resident Frank Galluzzo suggested having a “user pays policy” as a means of saving money.

“Increase entry fees to shire facilities like the pool so the cost is not a burden on ratepayers that don’t use it,” he said.

An anonymous resident suggested closing toilet blocks that weren’t being used much, while a few respondents called for cuts to council staff and wages, though this hadn’t been provided as an option.

READ ALSO Leeton’s Iannellis celebrate a 30-year marriage of never being apart

The council is set to make a decision on whether to apply for a special rate variation by the end of November. If it opts to push ahead with a 52 per cent rate increase and IPART agrees, it would mean Leeton would have among the highest rates in the area. According to a council commissioned paper by Morrison Low Consultants, the average Leeton residential rate would be $1553 in 2024/25, higher than neighbouring Griffith ($1176) and Narrandera ($752).

“I don’t understand why our rates are higher than councils in Sydney. Look at all the services they get compared to us,” pensioner Kathleen Siemionow said.

Leeton shire general manager Jackie Kruger said she expected many other councils to also apply for a special rate variation, given the difficult economic times.

At community information sessions, some residents asked whether cost blowouts of redevelopments to the Leeton pool and the Roxy Theatre were responsible for the planned special rate rise. Mayor Tony Reneker said this was not the case. He said the increase was necessary due to the rising cost of materials, energy and services.

The new surveys can be accessed via the Leeton Shire Council Have Your Say website.

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