Letters-to-the-Editor: Fairer rate system is needed

A number of residents have outlined the problem faced by ratepayers, pensioners, and tenants, since  rate and other levy increase are ultimately passed on with rents. 

Staff at Bellingen Shire Council have in recent years made considerable progress in managing affairs and deserve credit for it. However, archaic laws and regulations going back to the 19th and 20th century prevent just and fairer contribution of the load to be carried by ratepayers.

Council’s annual report 2015/16 and the mayor’s circular letter demonstrate, that a solution to the existing problems could be found by reforming:

  1. State and Federal Government contribution system to road construction and maintenance
  2. Council modus of operation
  3. Landholder holder exemption rules

I understand, that State Government contributes to road construction and maintenance, by allocating 30 per cent of their road budget to local government on a per capita basis.

This may well have worked during the pioneering phase; however, it fails the fairness test in today’s environment.

This becomes obvious by comparing shires in the metropolitan area like Sutherland with a rural Shire like Bellingen.

Sutherland has 210,863 inhabitants on an area of 370 km2, whereas Bellingen counts 13,010 souls on 1,602 km2.

If the State grants $100.00/capita in road funding, our city cousins receive 21,086,300.00 or $56,900.00/head/ km2; the rural population of Bellingen must manage with $1,301,000.00 or $8,120.00/head/ km2.

The disparity of 7:1 is strikingly obvious.

Council administration sets the annual budget in consultation with a committee. The finance manager/director reports to the CEO. Councillors approve or disapprove in accordance with input from their electorate.

This raises three questions:

  • Why can the manager for finance not be independent and only answerable to the audit commission? Is there not a conflict of interest? (tendency of bloating of administration – Parkinson’s law)
  • Do councillors have the skills to decide on matters concerning all residents in the shire? (Note: No skills required to stand for council)
  • How likely is it that certain vocal interest groups e.g. environment, arts, culture etc. – get large slices of the cake? (political and not need based or rational decisions)

State, Federal Government and “Non for Profit” organisations hold over 50 per cent of the 1,602 km2 land in the shire. They do not pay rates.

State Forest Department removes valuable resources, and logging trucks cause damage to roads and bridges.

National Parks runs business enterprises and attracts visitors who contribute to wear and tear of roads in the shire.

Where is the “user pays principle”, the fair go and the egalitarian spirit of our constitution?

The inequalities and systemic/structural issues mentioned above affect every rural shire.

Personal letters to Macquarie Street or Canberra alone may not bring about change, but it needs the joint support of all rural residents and rural shire administrations to meet the needs of communities in the 21st century by reforming an outdated system.