Rates to rise with special variation

• Rate comparison for 2015/16. Cont

Rates in the Lachlan Shire look set to rise after Council began the community consultative process last week. Three community meetings were held in Lake Cargelligo, Condobolin and Tottenham. The Council outlined their application for a special rate variation, which will be put to the Independent Pricing and Regulatory Tribunal (IPART) by the end of this month. Council is seeking a 32.31 per cent rate rise over the next four years, which would see around $1 million returned to the bottom line. The rate increase is seen as an imperative part of Council’s bid to ‘stand alone’.

By Melissa Blewitt

Rates will rise in the Lachlan Shire if an application for a special variation is approved by the Independent Regulatory and Pricing Tribunal (IPART).

A proposed 32.31 per cent rate increase over four years will see Lachlan Shire Council (LSC) attempt to meet several financial, infrastructure and efficiency targets.

According to LSC General Manager Robert Hunt for LSC to become ‘Fit for the Future’ hard decisions had to be made.

“Following a thorough review of our operations, we reduced expenditure, cut staff, raised some user fees and charges, looked at increasing productivity, borrowed money, reviewed service levels and proposed a rate increase of 32.31 per cent to be staged over four years,” he said.

“LSC then met all the targets with the exception of scale and capacity which IPART stated was due to our population being under 10,000, however the Government believes some Councils do have scale and capacity and LSC is awaiting advice on this.”

LSC has twice previously engaged Micromex Pty Ltd to independently survey 250 community members on whether they would support a 33 per cent rate increase to enable LSC to be financially fit for the future and the majority of those surveyed indicated they would support a rate increase, Mr Hunt added.

“LSC is now making an application to IPART to approve a 32.31% increase over 4 years and part of that application process is to ensure the community is aware of the proposed rate increase and its financial impacts on residents,” he said.

“Of the 32.31 per cent increase, 9.31 per cent is represented by rate peg increases which would normally be payable over the four year period. LSC is basically seeking a five per cent per annum increase above the rate peg increase in each of the four years and this increase is to remain permanent.

“The usual rate peg increases will then resume in 2020/21.”

This means the cumulative impact on average residential rates at the end of the four year period will be $2.80 per week or $145 per annum.

For Non Urban Residential Rates it will be a cumulative increase of $3.54 per week or $184 per annum.

Businesses will be looking at $3.20 per week extra, or $166 per annum.

Farmland rates will increase $16.63 per week or $865 per annum.

Mr Hunt said the additional rate income would help LSC in maintaining council assets.

“LSC will allocate the additional rate income to increasing maintenance of council assets such as buildings and roads and renewal of infrastructure,” he said.

“This will ensure we attain and continue to meet the Government’s performance targets in relation to the level of maintenance and asset renewal.”

“Council also has a hardship policy should any ratepayer find it difficult to pay their rates and residents should contact Council’s Chief financial Officer Mr John Chapman for a confidential discussion” he added.

LSC met with interested community members at a series of public meetings at Lake Cargelligo, Condobolin and Tottenham.


Lachlan survives to fight another day

By Melissa Blewitt

Lachlan Shire Council (LSC) has survived the second phase of the State Government’s ‘Fit for the Future’ process.

They have been spared a forced amalgamation, for now.

Minister for Local Government Paul Toole and NSW Premier Mike Baird announced that 152 NSW Councils will be cut back to 112 last Friday.

The number of regional councils will be reduced from 109 to 87.

Lachlan, Bland, Parkes and Forbes will stand alone, however, Orange, Blayney and Cabonne along with Bathurst and Oberon Councils were not so fortunate, all facing a merger process.

LSC now has the opportunity to revise and resubmit its Fit for the Future proposal to be re-assessed and declared fit in 2016.

Mayor of Lachlan Shire Council (LSC), Councillor John Medcalf has welcomed the announcement that LSC will remain as a stand-alone Council following the announcement by the NSW Premier, on the future of local government in NSW.

“The outcome, while very pleasing, does not mean LSC is out of the woods just yet as more work needs to be undertaken with regard to scale and capacity. LSC along with all other “unfit” councils will be reassessed again in September next year by the NSW Government following the introduction of Joint Organisations of Councils,” he said.

“However I am confident we have the staff to get us “Fit for The Future” in all aspects and with the continued support of the community we can remain an independent financially sustainable Council providing new and expanded services that meet the needs of the community.

“I would like to thank our Local State Member, Kevin Humphries for his support during this process and for listening to our concerns. Thank you also to members of the Shire community who strongly displayed their desire for LSC to remain as a stand-alone Council during this long and protracted reform process,” he said.

“Importantly, on behalf of fellow Councillors, I thank LSC staff who have worked tirelessly over many long hours to achieve this successful outcome,” Mr Medcalf concluded.

The merger proposals announced, will now go forward to the Chief Executive Officer of Local Government who will conduct public inquiries and then refer their recommendations on to the Boundaries Commission for final determination. Due to the boundary review process, the local government elections scheduled for September 2016, will now be pushed back to March 2017.

Shire Almalgamation – Editors Opinion

If there is one thing that the IPART assessment proved, it’s that it’s all about the numbers. We are not a community. We are 6,700 now, and by 2031 we will be just 5,500. That’s the only number the NSW State Government cares about. And because that number is not judged as high or important enough, Lachlan Shire is in danger of becoming obsolete.
Now I don’t profess to always support Lachlan Shire Council, or its decisions on a regular basis. I am not always a fan of council, but our community matters to me. And I know one thing is for sure. If we are forcibly amalgamated with Parkes, then you can say goodbye to local representation and the upkeep of roads and infrastructure. We will be forgotten as quickly as they close the Lachlan Shire office doors.
Lachlan currently looks after 4,500 kilometres of Shire roads. Who will care if they are sitting in an office in Parkes? No one, that’s who. Who will travel the distance to check on a water supply at Lake Cargelligo or Tullibigeal? That’s over two hours out of their day. Now why is Parkes the be all and end all for Lachlan? Sure it has a bigger population, but did not satisfy one crucial area of the IPART assessments – efficiency. Now how does that work?
You’re not efficient but you’re fit because of your projected population growth? Let’s get real. Parkes is riding on the back of mining right now, but when operations inevitably wind down they will be looking at more than a gigantic hole underground, they will be looking at a gigantic hole in their population and economy. IPART has not mentioned how they will handle that. However Lachlan has been judged unfit on a projected falling population.
The State Government says amalgamations will save money, but then offers incentives under the Stronger Communities Fund for up to $15 million to invest in community infrastructure. I’m going to call if for what it is – absolute bread sticks (read between the lines on that one). If they have the money to literally throw ‘incentives’ away to amalgamating councils, why can’t they put that money into local government so they can provide better services and infrastructure? That might just make too much sense.
It seems funny to me (in a humourous way) that the Local Government Minister Paul Toole (Bathurst) and National Leader Troy Grant’s (Dubbo) local council areas are deemed ‘fit’. Just make everything bigger, and let even more services and representation slide away.
That brings me to our National Party representatives. Now where are they in this argument?
Not out fighting for our local councils, simply hiding behind one line responses and generic press releases. Come on. You were elected to represent our electorate. Get out here and explain why this is so good for us. Come to a community meeting and look us all in the eye, and tell us all why we need massive, amalgamated councils. We voted for you in good conscience, so that you would stand up for us and the issues that are important to this town. If you don’t fight for us, I think you don’t deserve our vote. You certainly won’t be getting mine at the next election, if you don’t support rural communities. I think you have lost sight of what true community means. I think you need to talk to your constituents.
Love them or loathe them, Lachlan Shire Council has earned the right to represent its community at a local level. They are committed to the Shire and steering the organisation in a better direction. I implore you all, to write a letter to your state and federal member. Tell them you don’t agree. If you think nothing gets done now, wait till Lachlan is part of a 21,000 plus mega council area.
People power can change this. Write a letter or start a petition. We may have to suck it up and accept some tough decisions, if it means we get to keep Lachlan local then so be it. If you don’t care, then do nothing. But do that at your own risk.
Have the courage to tell the state government what you think. Have the courage to tell the state government this is wrong. Have the courage to say NO to forced amalgamations.
Melissa Blewitt

Tightening the belt on Lachlan

By Lara Pearce

Lachlan Shire residents are being urged to attend community meetings to discuss the Council’s proposal to stand-alone amidst controversial plans to increase rates in the 2015/16 year.

The Council has less than two weeks left to finalise its proposal to the NSW Government outlining why it should remain a stand-alone Council. The ‘Fit for the Future’ report, which must be completed by all local councils in NSW, is due on 30 June.

The Lachlan Shire Council is holding public meetings in Tottenham, Condobolin and Lake Cargelligo. Condobolin’s meeting is scheduled to take place tonight, Wednesday 17 June, at 6pm at the Council Chambers.

The Mayor, Des Manwaring, is urging residents to have their say.

“The process is not a matter of tick and flick or what position the Council or the community wants to take,” he said. “It is up to the Council and the residents of Lachlan to prove we are ‘Fit for the Future’ by 2020 and we are going to have to make changes to remain a stand-alone Council.”

Among the changes flagged by Council are increases to water and sewerage rates. This is in spite of recent community calls to reduce water rates, which have almost tripled in ten years.

Water usage charges for residential users are set to increase from $2.03/kl to $2.20/kl for the first 450kl and from $3.05/kl to $3.30/kl after that starting from 1 July.

Water access charges would also increase by 7% plus $25, while the annual sewerage charges are proposed to increase by 2.5% plus $75.

Council has also announced it is planning on applying for a Special Rate Variation (SRV) allowing it to increase rates by 5% in addition  to the standard rate peg increase of 2.4% for four consecutive years, starting from 1 July 2016.

Other revenue-raisers include: charges for the use of tips and waste facilities; modest increases to rates for Domestic Waste Management of around 2.5%; and the closure of Albert, Fifield and Derriwong tips, to be replaced with a kerbside collection service.

The Council has also indicated that it will not be filling some positions which currently stand vacant.

The Independent Local Government Review Panel has recommended that Lachlan Shire merge with Parkes Council in order to become more economically sustainable – a suggestion which has met with widespread community backlash.

“Previous community consultation overwhelmingly wanted Lachlan to remain a stand-alone Council,” the Mayor noted.

“At these upcoming community meetings, input will assist in determining an appropriate response for ‘Fit for the Future’.”

Once the ‘Fit for the Future’ report is submitted, the NSW Government’s independent expert panel will review the submissions and make its final recommendations to the state government in a report by 16 October.

Premier Mike Baird will then make the final decision.

Former Parkes GM steps up for Lachlan

Veteran Council manager Alan McCormack has come out of retirement to take on the position of General Manager at the Lachlan Shire Council as of last Monday.

• Back in his old chair: The new Acting General Manager of Lachlan Shire Council, Alan McCormack, is returning to Condobolin after forty years. LP

By Lara Pearce

Veteran Council manager Alan McCormack has come out of retirement to take on the position of General Manager at the Lachlan Shire Council as of last Monday.

Mr McCormack says he is filling in while a permanent replacement is found, which is expected to take at least three months. His key focus during his time here, he says, will be Council’s ‘Fit for the Future’ report.

Former General Mananger Liz Collyer resigned from her position effective from 8 January after two years in the job. Ms Collyer has taken up a position as Director of Corporate Services at Tweed Shire Council on the north coast of New South Wales, where she will start work next Tuesday.

Mr McCormack is an experienced General Manager, having served in the role at Parkes Shire Council for twenty-one years. Since retiring in 2010, he has taken up interim positions at Forbes, Blayney and Oberon Councils.

He is also no stranger to Condobolin, having worked as Deputy Shire Clerk (the pre-1990 term for Deputy General Manager) from 1972 until 1974. “And I’m back in the same office as I was then!” he said with a smile.

“The Mayor just approached me and asked if I would come over for a few months while they found someone,” Mr McCormack explained. He says the Council will soon begin the application process for a permanent General Manager.

As well as processing job applications, the returning Council manager is busy finalising preparations for the Australia Day celebrations, preparing for the Western Division Conference and working on the Council’s ‘Fit for the Future’ report.

“[The Australia Day celebrations] are huge, because we try to get out to all the towns in the Shire,” he explained. Events will include a breakfast and presentation ceremony at Memorial Park at 7:30am, followed by various celebrations in Lake Cargelligo, Tullibigeal, Tottenham and Fifield.

The Western Division of Councils is a collaboration between New South Wales’ western councils, which make up one third of the state. Condobolin will play host to their next meeting, bringing Councillors and Council staff from the far reaches of New South Wales to the area.

“It is a great opportunity to showcase the town,” Mr McCormack said.

The conference will be held at the Wiradjuri Condobolin Corporation.

However, the Fit for the Future report is chief among the new GM’s concerns. The report is due in to the Office of Local Government by 30 June this year, with huge implications for the future of local councils.


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