2 November 2023

Narrandera residents fight back against council's proposed 42 per cent rate hike

| Oliver Jacques
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Group of people at large table

Narrandera Concerned Ratepayers group members David Farley, Kae Smith, Anthony Marsh, Debra Metcalf, Wesley Hall, Ben Mahy, Steve Rolfe, Shane Clancy and Craig Broad. Photo: Baz Tuppin.

Narrandera residents are fighting back against a proposal by their council that could see their rates increase by a whopping 42 per cent in just one year.

The local government body is following its counterparts in Griffith and Leeton in considering an application to the State Government regulator to raise rates well above the usual yearly increases.

Leeton’s councillors ended up voting against making the rate hike application after a strong community campaign led by former councillor Alison Egan, while Griffith’s councillors voted in favour of requesting the special rise.

READ MORE Griffith Council votes to apply for 35 per cent rate hike after heated debate

Now, Narrandera Shire Council is aiming for a much higher short-term hike than either of its neighbouring shires – contemplating the option of either a one-off 41.5 per cent rise next financial year, or two gradual increases that would see rates rise by a total of 48.1 per cent over the next two years.

The average resident would see their rates go up from $748 to $1051 next year under the first option; or up to $1100 by 2025/26 under the second option.

A group called Narrandera Concerned Ratepayers was formed last month to mobilise opposition to the proposed “special rate variation” (SRV).

Group spokesman and former councillor Wesley Hall believes there is no justification for such a sudden, sharp rate hike.

“The general feeling from the community is we are not getting value for money from the council. When they have any problems, the ratepayers have to pay,” he said.

“The council are in a good financial position, but they’ve decided to get in consultants to give them the answer that they want.

“We are analysing the figures – Narrandera [council staff] payroll has gone up nearly $2 million over the past five years, but there doesn’t seem to be any increase in productivity.

“It’s financial mismanagement as far as we are concerned.”

Alison Egan standing in Leeton park

Alison Egan led a successful campaign against a proposed Leeton rate hike. Photo: Oliver Jacques.

Narrandera Council says that an SRV is necessary because its income from rates has not kept pace with increases in expenses. It argues that the SRV will generate an additional $2.3 million, which is necessary to ensure financial sustainability, upgrade the Narrandera stormwater system, maintain existing service levels and upgrade technology and infrastructure.

Mr Hall has questioned why a council that is supposedly strapped for cash spends so much on external consultants.

“The council has spent $200,000 on consultants to push the case for the SRV. Our budget is nil, but we’re still getting much more support than council.

“If they decided to go ahead with the SRV, Narrandera Council will likely also be spending $20,000 to $30,000 on consultants to put in the SRV application [to the regulator].”

Narrandera Council has told Region it has spent $120,000 so far engaging Sydney-based consultants Morrison Low, with further work and associated costs expected.

It also says staff numbers have remained relatively constant since 2017 and that all staff other than the general manager are employed under the Local Government State Award.

The council has undertaken a number of community consultation sessions on the SRV over the past month and is accepting submissions from residents online until 3 November 2023.

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When Leeton Shire Council canvassed an SRV last year, it received 900 submissions, most of them opposing the rate hike. A majority of Leeton councillors voted against it, so the council never asked 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 SRV at its October meeting.

Narrandera Shire Council will vote on whether to apply for the SRV at its November meeting. More details on the proposal can be found on its website.

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