Fri. Jun 14th, 2024

Armidale Regional Council is holding an extraordinary meeting tomorrow afternoon, Monday January 30, on the adoption of the amended delivery plan and resourcing strategy linked to the proposed 50% rates increase.

The adoption of the Amended Delivery Program 2022-2026 and the Amended Resourcing Strategy 2022-2026 including the updated Long-Term Financial Plan are the sole substantive matters on the agenda. The amendments result from the formal resolution of Council to proceed with an
application for a Special Rate Variation (SRV), which occurred at the Ordinary Council Meeting of
23 November 2022.

Council must approve the adoption of the revised plans, or they cannot proceed to apply to the Independent Pricing and Regulatory Tribunal (IPART) for the special rates variation by the deadline of February 3.

The rates increase has come under sustained criticism from the public, but Council continues to push ahead. The consultation on these documents was not advertised properly, and was criticised by some as being ‘snuck through’ over the Christmas break.

“I am totally against this move to increase the rates and am appalled at the timing asking for
submissions – 16th December to 20 January. As Council office was closed for most of this time,
preventing me from paying my water rates until last Monday (9th), it seems clear that Council
does not really want community feedback,” wrote Dr Darrell Fisher in his submission.

The planning documents reveal Council’s planning to cut across the activities already being done by local businesses and community groups, duplicate the work already being done by state and federal departments, or otherwise stray out of their mandate. From developing a biosecurity plan to delivering skills training for local businesses, ARC seems determined not to constrain their activities to roads, rates and rubbish.

In particular, they are planning to do a lot of marketing, including more than a dozen promotional campaigns, develop a brand for the region, and deliver ‘shop local’ campaigns. They’re also planning to do a lot of advocacy activity, advocating for everything on action on climate change to getting doctors to the region. Of some concern, given the poor management of the Big Chill Festival last year and the recently announced move of the winter festival to 13-14 May, and the vanishing traditional Autumn Festival, is Council’s plans to attract, plan and deliver more events, including tourist, sporting and arts events. And of course, they plans include building the highly controversial rail trail.

The documents also reveal General Manager James Roncon, who argued for the SPV saying the rates increase was necessary to pay people their legally required pay increases, has added to high level salaries by swelling the number of senior executives from 4 to 6 as part of his restructure of the organisation.

While few would ever want to speak against increased activity and growth promotion, the hypocrisy and farcical nature of the entire SRV consultation process has left a bitter taste in many residents mouths. The consultation and debate has never allowed for a compromise option of trimming the budget and a smaller rates increase. And, there has been repeated criticism of the complexity of the documents and the short time frame in which to comment on each iteration of the plans.

“[I’m] trying to understand these documents you have not made it easy for the common man to understand,” wrote Barry Litchfield in his formal submission.

Council staff, as has been common practice for some time, dismissed the bulk of formal submissions received as irrelevant because they were generally opposed to the rates increase and did not specifically address the documents. All submissions that were for or against the rail trail were also dismissed in a summary line that just counted their number.

The evidence of repeated dismissal of the views of the community throughout the process was also easily found in the formal submissions.

“At an information session last year for the SRV I asked the facilitator Mayor Sam Coupland
what guarantee can Armidale Regional Council give to ratepayers that the extra revenue raised by
the SRV will only be used to reduce the maintenance backlog. Mayor Coupland’s reply was “next
question”. I think the ratepayers and residents of Armidale Regional Council deserve a better
answer than “next question” from our Mayor,” wrote Paul McCann in his submission.

“I am disgusted with the games the council plays with the community to ensure it complies with
the SRV community engagement requirements while only exposing just enough to the
community to minimise opposition,” Nathan Heberley wrote.

The meeting will be held at 4pm on Monday, January 30, at the Armidale Council Chambers. The agenda for the meeting is on the Council website. Those unable to attend can watch the meeting online via Council’s YouTube channel.

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