Most of the 17 councils that applied to IPART for permission to increase their rates above the peg have been given the green light, including Armidale, Walcha and Liverpool Plains. Tenterfield Shire Council’s application was only partially approved.
As a result of the decision, Armidale Regional Council can increase rates by 58.8% giving it the most expensive rates in the region. IPART noted the expensiveness of the rates, but said it was acceptable because average incomes were also higher.
There were 47 submissions to IPART on the Armidale application, almost all of which were opposed to the rate raise. More than half pointed to the long history of mismanagement and waste in Armidale Regional Council, however IPART says in its report that financial management is not part of the criteria they assess. The report also notes that ARC doesn’t have to listen to any of the feedback they received in opposition to the rise: the IPART Criteria only requires that they consult the community, and consider the response, which they demonstrated by summarising it.
Armidale Regional Council issued a statement welcoming the decision, and indicating they intend to implement the full increase starting with the first 16.6% rate rise hitting next month.
“Today’s announcement marks a significant turning point for our region and will now allow Council to address the systemic revenue problems that have plagued this council and the many iterations of it for decades in the past,” Armidale Regional Council Mayor Sam Coupland said.
By contrast, there was very little opposition to the Walcha and Liverpool Plains rates increases.
Walcha’s rates can now be increased by 57.74% over 3 years. As a result of the stellar consultation and engagement process they ran led by local government expert Professor Joseph Donnelly, only 1 submission was received by IPART on the Walcha application, which argued that the planned renewables projects will increase revenue.
Liverpool Plains Shire Council had its more modest request for a previous 18.1% temporary increase to be made permanent approved, also with little push back. IPART received 11 submissions mostly talking about affordability.
“This is good news as without this revenue we would have seen a faster decline in our road
network,” said LPSC Mayor Doug Hawkins.
Tenterfield Shire Council did not have its application for a 104% rate increase approved. Instead, IPART approved a 1 year permanent increase of 43%. The IPART report says that Tenterfield Shire Council did not demonstrate that the community is aware of the need and extent of the SRV; the proposed increase did not have a reasonable impact on ratepayers; and the documents submitted by Council on their plans did not clearly quantify the savings associated with their strategies. IPART received 89 submissions mostly in opposition to the increase, citing affordability, the service levels provided by Council, and issues with the consultation process.
The approved rate increases only impact general rates, not water, sewer or waste fees.
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