Debate ignites over Shellharbour rate rises

Former mayor Kellie Marsh is against the proposed rate rises.
Former mayor Kellie Marsh is against the proposed rate rises.

The rates debate is heating up in Shellharbour after the council agreed to push ahead with plans to request extraordinary rate rises from next year to fund repairs to the city's failing assets.

The council will write to the state's pricing regulator to signal its intention to ask for a special rates variation above next year's 3.4 per cent rate pegging limit.

Details of how much it will ask for and where the money would be spent are yet to be settled.

However, the preliminary discussion at Tuesday's council meeting showed the debate is likely to be a fiery one.

The recommendation by council staff to the meeting did not trigger any public submissions.

Liberal councillor Kellie Marsh, who alongside independent Peter Moran spoke against extraordinary rate rises, claimed residents she had spoken to did not feel they would be listened to.

"I think by putting the rates up it's a classic easy way out instead of looking at cost cutting, looking at where we can trim the fat," she told the meeting.

Proponents say increasing the council's income is the only way to restore failing community assets - such as swimming pools, facilities at sports fields and roads - after years of neglect.

Labor councillor David Boyle said if the council failed to act it would be in a worse position by 2017.

"I know times are tough but our position statement is a 'city of vision' and we've been put in a position to look forward to the future of the city," he said.

Liberal Deputy Mayor Paul Rankin said the alternative would be cutting services.

"There's only so much fat you can trim before you're down to the bone," he said.

He also said he had "not got one email" about the issue from residents.

Labor Mayor Marianne Saliba linked rate rises and the council's asset management to council amalgamations.

"There is a gap of approximately $6 million per year in our budget in relation to renewing our assets," she said.

"If Shellharbour City Council can't demonstrate that we're financially stable and that we can sustain ourselves, we'll be one of the first cabs off the rank [for amalgamation]. How would we feel about being amalgamated with Wollongong?"

She acknowledged that no-one wanted to pay extra rates, but said "everybody can identify some things in their area that they would like fixed or repaired or improved".

Labor councillor John Murray and independent Helen Stewart also backed the recommendation.

Cr Moran argued it was "not the right time" to ask for rate rises while also going ahead with the $55 million City Hub.

The council now has until March to speak to residents and apply for a special rates variation.

Figures last month showed rate increases of up to 42 per cent were required by 2016-17 to bring the city's asset renewal in line with the state average.


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