Rates, roads and water: Local Government NSW conference

horses racing
They’re racing! Under discussion at this weekend’s Local Government NSW conference are rates, infrastructure and water.

Frontrunners for discussion at this weekend’s Local Government NSW conference at Sydney’s Rosehill Gardens racecourse are rate pegging, infrastructure, section 94 contributions and ownership of water utilities.

Although there is only one reference to it in the conference business papers, discussion on council amalgamations will be another sure bet once the barriers go up.

Councillors will be wondering whether NSW Local Government Minister Paul Toole has got his blinkers on and failed to compute the level of rebellion among many of them should he decide to force council mergers after the Independent Pricing and Regulatory Tribunal hands him its recommendations on October 16.

Rates have been a perennial favourite on the agenda at (surely) every local government conference since the dawn of time, or at least since rate pegging was introduced in 1978.

Many councils view the Mexican stand-off over rate pegging, and indeed cost-shifting, as more critical to the survival of NSW councils than the row over council mergers.

Wellington Council says in its submission: “While the focus has been on amalgamations, the real issue of funding still has not been comprehensively addressed.”

LGNSW wants the Independent Pricing and Regulatory Tribunal (IPART) to remove rate pegging completely. or make it simpler and cheaper to apply for special rate variations.

Some councils have called on the government to abolish “unjustified and poorly targeted” rate exemptions and concessions for commercial tenants of Commonwealth and state land. This can include universities, air bases, emergency service facilities and airports.

There is also a motion calling for properties in single ownership but in multiple residential dwellings, for example retirement villages, to contribute more to council rates.

Great Lakes Council believes the rating legislation within the Local Government Act 1993 has not kept pace with the development of large scale residential developments.

“These properties and others are categorised as residential and subject to the same rate as surrounding residential properties. They are levied a single ad valorem rate and a single base amount, despite containing 50 to 150 or more individual residential dwellings. Each of these dwellings contain 1, 2 or 3 bedrooms,” says the council’s submission.

“On some properties this can equate to general rates of as little as $52.70 per year per dwelling where other similar types of dwellings on separate lots in the same locality are levied around $900 to $1100.”

Parramatta City Council suggests that the Valuer General should value properties using the Capital Improved Value to assess rates, rather than on the unimproved land value.

Section 94 contributions
Wollondilly Shire Council wants the cap on Section 94 contributions paid by developers be indexed from when they were introduced in September 2010, in recognition of increasing construction and land costs that councils face when building new infrastructure.

Section 94 contributions are paid by developers to councils and based on projected population growth, and the likely new facilities and services councils will need to provide. The cap is currently $30,000 per lot for councils in greenfield areas and $20,000 per lot for remaining council areas.

The council says in its submission: “By not being able to index the Section 94 charges to adjust for CPI, a funding gap is created between the cost of carrying out the works identified and costed in the plan, and the income that council generates from its Section 94 contributions.

“This will affect Council’s ability to fully implement its Section 94 Plan, which may mean that it will not be able to provide the full range of services and infrastructure required to support its growing population.”

Blacktown City Council wants to lobby the government to include community services buildings – not just the land on which they sit – under Section 94 contributions and also to class community facilities buildings under essential infrastructure.

Many NSW councils have infrastructure at the top of their worry list.

Some want government help preparing business cases for projects.  Western councils want the requirement for councils to match fund infrastructure projects to be lowered or dropped to address regional disadvantage.

LGNSW is suggesting the formation of a new National Infrastructure Network to address planning, co-ordination and funding and one council wants application criteria and deadlines and under state and federal infrastructure funding programs to be better aligned.

Bega Valley Shire Council would like the federal and state government to consider the demands on coastal councils’ services and infrastructure at peak holiday times during the planning and funding process when allocated funding and making policy.

Water and sewerage

A motion is being moved at the conference that local government should maintain responsibility for the operation and management of water supply and sewerage services and ownership of water supply and sewerage infrastructure.

The Fit for the Future process has made some councils fear that their responsibilities for water utilities will be removed  – IPART has said it will “consider the impact of water utility performance in assessing the scale and capacity criterion as well as the impact on the other three criteria.”

Around 20 per cent of regional NSW councils manage water utilities. They argue that they perform this function well and it provides critical revenue, retains skills and provides local jobs.

Central Tablelands Water County Council says: “Councils are most effective in achieving whole-of-community outcomes and integrated water cycle management, utilising efficiency of economies of scope, and allowing for sustainable, locally appropriate long term strategic planning and service provision.”

The LGNSW Conference is on Sunday October 11 to Tuesday October 13 at Rosehill Gardens racecourse in Sydney.

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