9 June 2023

Griffith council seeks to justify rate hike as Minister criticises local government spending

| Oliver Jacques
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Jenny Ellis at a table speaking to a resident

Councillor Jenny Ellis talks to resident Sue Fordham at a Community Opinion Group meeting in February. More chances to speak to councillors will be occurring throughout June. Photo: Oliver Jacques.

Griffith City Council has commenced a series of consultation sessions in an attempt to convince the community of the need to make special increases in the shire’s council rates over the next three years.

Council charges are regulated by a NSW Government authority called the Independent Pricing and Regulatory Tribunal (IPART), which sets the maximum annual amount councils can lift rates, known as a “rate peg” – currently set at 3.7 per cent for the 2023/24 financial year.

However, the Griffith council is seeking ratepayer support to apply to IPART for a special rate variation (SRV), which would enable then to increase rates by a total of 34.9 per cent over the next three years.

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Mayor Doug Curran said these increases were necessary to sustain the current level of services provided by council.

“To secure the future of our community and the services and assets that we cherish and to ensure our council is ready for the future, we need to engage our community with very mature discussions about why we need this special rate variation,” councillor Curran said.

“I ask that you take the time to read all of the information that we will be distributing, attend meetings and briefings or watch our online presentation, ask questions, seek to understand and provide your feedback.

“As well as the sessions listed below, we are meeting with service groups, committees and organisations in our community to have these discussions; if you would like us to do so for your group please reach out and let us know.”

In justifying the need for an SRV, general manager Brett Stonestreet has argued council’s general fund is forecast to be a deficit of just under $5 million in 2023/24, due in part to inadequate rate pegs by IPART, the rising costs of materials, services and utilities, and increased employee costs. He also said the State Government had gradually been shifting cost burdens on to local government.

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On the latter argument, Griffith Council is unlikely to get much sympathy from the Minister for Local Government, Ron Hoenig, who was scathing of spending and financial management across councils generally in NSW Parliament last week.

“Mayors from a variety of councils have been coming to see me and writing to me, talking about the financial sustainability of local government,” he told the chamber on Tuesday, 30 May 2023.

“I point out to them that financial sustainability is not about rate increases; it is about getting their own finances in order. It is about monitoring their own finances and making sure that they are accountable for their own expenses … Local government needs to face its own expenditure issues before it comes bleating to the State Government and asking for an allocation of funds when it is itself facing a $180 billion deficit. When I see mayors this week, I am going to have their audit reports sitting in front of me. I am going to ask them about their financial accountability and their expenditure before they start asking the state to pay for the fire trucks going down their street, which they are responsible for paying for.”

Ron Hoenig with a Mother's Day heart

Local Government Minister Ron Hoenig has not been showing a lot of love to councils. Photo: Facebook.

To learn more about the proposed SRV and express an opinion, residents can attend one of the following meetings:

Thursday, 15 June 2023, 10 am – noon: Kooyoo Street Kiosk – Council Cafe.

Thursday, 22 June 2023, 5 pm: Griffith City Library.

Thursday, 6 July 2023, 11:30 am – 1:30 pm: Griffith Central – Council Cafe.

Thursday, 20 July 2023, 10 am – noon: Kooyoo Street Kiosk – Council Cafe.

Tuesday, 1 August 2023, 7 pm: Hanwood Catholic Club – Community Opinion Group (COG) Meeting.

Friday, 4 August 2023, 10 am – noon: Griffith Central – Council Cafe.

In addition to the above forums, the Griffith mayor and general manger have stated they are available to address individual community organisations. You can contact council on 1300 176 077 to arrange a meeting.

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