8 December 2023

'Mad as hell': Ratepayers group 'not giving up' after Narrandera Council votes for 43 per cent rate hike

| Oliver Jacques
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Wes Hall in suit

Former councillor Wesley Hall is leading the campaign against a special rate hike in Narrandera. Photo: Oliver Jacques.

A group representing Narrandera ratepayers said it would continue to fight against a proposed special rate hike, despite its council’s recent decision to apply for a 43 per cent increase over two years.

Wesley Hall, a former councillor and spokesman for the Narrandera Concerned Ratepayers, said his community was “mad as hell” about the recent council vote and would seek an audience with the local government minister as their next step.

“We’re not giving up, we will escalate,” he said. “We’ve still got the petition [against the rate hike] going, we’ve got 1100 signatures which is a magnificent effort for Narrandera, but the council are ignoring us.”

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After a period of community consultation, Narrandera Council voted to go ahead with requesting a special increase in rates of 43 per cent over the next two years – 25.5 per cent in the first year and 18 per cent in the second.

The council argued that this was necessary because its income from rates had not kept pace with increases in expenses. It claims the extra revenue is needed to ensure financial sustainability, the maintenance of existing service levels and upgrades to technology and infrastructure.

Mr Hall, however, said the council was in a good financial position but had a “bloated bureaucracy” and was spending too much on senior white-collar staff and external consultants.

The local government body will formally apply to the State Government regulator – the Independent Pricing and Regulatory Tribunal (IPART) – for the rate hike in February 2024 and IPART will then make the final decision on whether the increase can go ahead.

“It was like a done deal for our council,” Mr Hall said. “There was no debate, nothing. The council has ignored what the majority of people wanted. If you look at the general tone of the submissions from the public [on the rate hike], it’s clear the community have lost faith in the council.”

Council general manager George Cowan rejects the claim that the community were ignored.

“During the debate on the [rate increase] councillors recognised the feedback from the community and thanked the residents that made submissions and those that had attended information sessions. They noted that out of 3600 ratepayers 189 submissions had been received and about one quarter of those were either supportive or neutral,” he said.

“Ultimately the council resolved to proceed with an application to IPART but in desiring to lessen the immediate impacts, for that application to be for the introduction of the increase over two years.”

Mr Hall said only one councillor, Cr Jenny Clarke, voted against making the application to IPART.

“We wrote individually to the nine councillors to let them know our concerns but we didn’t hear back from any of them,” Mr Hall said.

“Our committee has asked for a meeting with the local MP Steph Cooke, to let her know that the council aren’t listening to the community,” he said. “We want to get a referral from her to speak to the local government minister.

“We want to ask for advice on how to appeal [directly] to IPART. We are not happy with the behaviour of the council … we’re confident of getting a good hearing with the minister.”

Group of people at large table

Narrandera Concerned Ratepayers’ David Farley, Kae Smith, Anthony Marsh, Debra Metcalf, Wesley Hall, Ben Mahy, Steve Rolfe, Shane Clancy and Craig Broad. Absent from the photo are Warwick Heckendorf, Anita Houldsworth and Michael Gray. Photo: Baz Tuppin.

If the special rate increase goes ahead, the average ratepayer will see their council bills go up by around $300 per year by 2026.

Narrandera’s two neighbouring councils have also seen community backlashes against proposed special rate increases.

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When Leeton Shire Council canvassed the idea last year, it received 900 submissions, most of them opposing the rate hike. A majority of Leeton councillors voted against it, so the council didn’t ask the regulator to raise rates.

Griffith City Council proposed a special rate rise this year. The opposition to the proposal was not nearly as fierce as it was in Leeton, with only 157 resident submissions made. The council voted in favour of making the application for the special rate hike at its October 2023 meeting.

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