Some notes by Jim Beatson (BRG member) 17 January 2017
SUMMARY: Resolutions before Byron Shire Councillors concerning proposed rate rises over the next four years, if applied in their current form, will radically damage, and change the nature of Byron Shire over a decade or several decades to come.
How? By transferring BSCs acknowledged 25% to 30% costs of tourism onto Byron Shire’s local residential ratepayers away from both businesses in general and businesses that specifically benefit from the tourism industry.It is recognised that Byron Shire Council has had a growing infrastructure shortfall over many years and that Byron Council’s General Manager has brought these strongly, and usefully, to the attention of councillors and the community.
However this growing infrastructure shortfall is primarily due to the New South Wales state government’s underfunding of local government and cost shifting of their responsibilities to local government over several decades.
This underfunding is particularly exacerbated in areas of low population with high tourism visitation of which Byron Shire Council is by far the largest victim in New South Wales. Our low rate base is exacerbated by the community’s commitment to maintaining Byron’s low rise building height bylaws which are strongly supported both by local residents and tourists alike. The impost of tourism on Byron Council has been further exacerbated by both the State government and local businesses, in promotion of tourism within our Shire, without paying their share of the costs.
Resolutions before Byron Shire Councillors concerning proposed rate rises over the next four years, if applied in their current form, will radically damage and change the nature of Byron Shire over a decade or several decades to come. By transferring BSCs acknowledged 25% to 30% costs of tourism onto Byron Shire’s local residential ratepayers away from both businesses in general and businesses that specifically benefit from the tourism industry.
In preparing its documentation when supporting the proposed four-year rate rise, Council staff ignore the existing radical increases in rates which occurred in 2015/2016 and two further NSW NSW Valuer General reports, one which will occur in 2016/17 and the normal NSW VG’s revaluation every three years i.e. 2020.
- According to the Agenda of Ordinary meeting 28/04/16, Staff report No 13.1 “Public Exhibition – Draft 2016/17 Operational Plan” under section “Draft General Land Rates and Charges” we see the following: Table 5 – Average General Land Rates Comparison
|Category||2015/2016 $||2016/2017 $||% Change|
|Business Byron CBD||4,814.96||4,437.19||-8.5%|
- How is it that Business Byron CBD rates decreased by 8.5%?
- The above chart is misleading because it is an average. As such it does not show the huge disparities in residential rates from one region within the Shire to another.
- Are farmlands only in agriculture or they also conducting weddings, holiday houses etc?
- Should Council advocate for a much smaller rate rise, while conducting a thorough examination of revenue raising opportunities related to tourism?
- Should a progressive Council endorse a plan whereby the imposed costs of tourism on Byron Shire Council is borne not by those who profit from tourism but by a majority of ratepayers who in buying a modest homes in Byron Bay, Suffolk Park and Brunswick Heads are now asked to pay for these unwanted costs?
- In the IPART Assessment of Council Fit for the Future Proposals: Appendix C Local Government — Final Report October 2015 page 155 it says “The council assumes it will receive a special variation of 3% above the rate peg under the streamlined process” because “In achieving these results, the council relies on efficiency savings as well as the successful application for and adoption of a special variation from 2016-17 of 22.5% cumulative over 4 years (13.0% above the rate peg).” Why does this differ so widely from the percentage options now under discussion by BSC?
- What is the NSW government timeline for the review of local government revenue reform to include value of property as well as land? What does this mean for Byron Shire? Should Council wait and hope legislation is passed or advocate for it at the state level? Would this be a better move for council?
- In BSC’s Ordinary Meeting Agenda 6 October 2016 page 32 Report No. 13.5 Proposed Special Rate Variation it described one option for a 7.5% as “maintain” yet several months later 7.5% became “deteriorate”? When did council’s advocacy on this issue change and where is the change documented?
- Right now residential rates in Byron Bay town show many increases ranging from $22 – $42 per week in year 2016-2017. The special case that is Byron Bay and two other areas (Suffolk and Brunswick) needs to be explained to ratepayers.
- How are these rate affordable to home owners living on old age and disability pensions, who have played no part in promoting our Shire a plaything for the uber-rich?
- Byron Bay Business CBD rates (200% of residential) are half that of Lismore (400% of residential rates). This differential is even greater in some other large towns in NSW. How can this be explained to the satisfaction of residential rate payers?
- Staff and external critics of BSC’s rates policy have proposed a ‘percentage revenue for each class of rate category’ (i.e. Residential, Business Ordinary, Business Byron CBD and Farmland) in place of the current percentage of land value. What year was the present system devised and why? Should this policy be reviewed?
- What has been BSC’s history and progress in seeking other funding sources? Simply claiming the State government does not support a bed tax is inadequate. Councillors and the community should be supplied with past and current Council history in seeking alternative revenue sources with estimates of sums to be raised/possible timelines in recovering costs of tourism:
Major items requiring answers are:
- A bed tax. The attached document, BED TAX FOR BYRON BAY? AN OVERVIEW by Peter Gough (a locally-based researcher), initially produced in March 2016, and updated December 2016/January 2017 differs greatly from the figures presented by the GM.
- Proposed holiday letting fees for BSC.
- Large festivals (Splendour/Falls/Bluesfest/-Elements new proposals) attendee fee contribution to BSC for costs that fall outside the festival site. Has council produced estimates?
- DA violations and variations (e.g. change of use post DA, illegal holiday lets).
- Compliance costs and opportunities to profit from tourism related issues as is addressing illegal behaviour in relation to damage caused to council assets together with security and maintenance charges related to appropriate costs (e.g. rubbish collection, road use charges) inappropriate behaviour (e.g. dumping, cleaning up after illegal events) in areas under Council control and management costs related to dealing with tourism.
Minor items deserving of further investigation at a later date include:
- Tourist road congestion fees/tax using toll road clickers but calculated on a per-week basis but which excludes vehicle registration plate numbers/owners who visit Byron Shire at least 40 weeks per year. Agreed a very long shot.
- Remittance of a proportion of state government annual vehicle registration fees for heavy vehicles in proportion to their kilometres spent on local government roads.
- Why is the rates variation presented in a vacuum (I.e. in isolation from existing and future Valuer General’s increases) which need to be addressed include:
- Many people do not understand compound interest. BSC’s rate projections should go from 2016 to 2020 with real dollar examples and % values showing increases on the rates as at end of Financial Year 2015-2016
- The upcoming Emergency Levy of 2017-18 isn’t mentioned and included in the overall forecasts of the Special Rate variation.
- Will the additional NSW Valuer General report due in 2016-2017 because of the Emergency Levy also impact further on already badly affected rate payers due to the 2015-16 increase?
- The Valuer General’s valuation in three or four years time, due to appear during the four year Special Rates variation period, is not mentioned.
- The stagnation/recession of Australia’s economy, as occurred in the last quarter (see http://www.tradingeconomics.com/australia/gdp-growth), is predicted to continue by a number of credible economic sources in Australia is also ignored. Yes a side issue.
- What is BSC’s relation of revenue from rates to debt? What scope for debt is there given rates are so low?
- At no point has the GM’s Rate Rise proposal been considered by the community within the framework of the Community Charter for Better Planning as passed by BSC. See attached framework document (Companion Document to the Charter). The Community Roundtable held by BSC to discuss the proposed rate rise at best provided an ill prepared small group of people and organisations an opportunity to ask several senior Council staff questions. I suspect any honest summery of the mood of this small group at leaving the meeting was dissatisfaction.