It has just ticked over five years since the FORCED amalgamations of the Cootamundra and Gundagai shires and at the mark of over half-a-decade of turmoil, ratepayers are continuing to bear the brunt of the unwanted merger.

Just this Monday the Independent Pricing and Regulatory Tribunal released a number of Special Rate Variation reports from amalgamated councils in NSW.

One of them included Cootamundra-Gundagai Regional Council’s application for a 53.5 per cent SRV over the next four years and this was announced and approved in full by IPART.

Within IPART’s summary there is a list of genuine concerns and issues raised by stakeholders during the application, and one highlighted that the rate increases were going to be “too high and unaffordable”.

IPART responded that although Council’s proposed rate increases are significant, its average residential rates are relatively low.

It added that by the end of the SRV period on June 30, 2025, the rates will still be comparable to the average rates of neighbouring councils and lower than other NSW councils with similar socio-economic characteristics to the Cootamundra-Gundagai area.

“This suggests the proposed increases are reasonable and generally affordable for most ratepayers,” IPART said.

But, these new hikes seem to forget rate harmonisations back in 2019-20, which inflicted many especially those most vulnerable in the community in pensioners and newly moved families to name a few.

Now with a cumulative increase of 53.5 per cent, ratepayers in the sectors of residential, business and agriculture will be further financially pressured, with the further increase in rates set to kick-in on July 1, 2021.

In terms of maths this is a 20 per cent increase in the first year, 16 per cent in second, then five per cent in both the third and fourth years, ending in 2024-25.

This works out to be a 20 per cent, 39.2 per cent, 46.2 per cent, and 53.5 per cent cumulative (compounded) increase in general income for CGRC over those four years, respectively.

If over a 10 year period, the 53.5 per cent SRV will amount to a total of $27 million additional income for Council.

CGRC General Manager Phil McMurray said draft budget and long-term financial plan will be at the attention of Councillors at next week’s CGRC meeting.

This report will enclose anticipated figures and will also be available for public exhibition following that.

Mr McMurray added that Council had to previously prove to IPART on cost saving strategies and promises to be efficient, prior to the approval of the SRV application.

Local Government Expert Professor Joseph Drew who made a couple of visits earlier this year as part of a public consultation on SRV, said questions must be asked on the delays of the proposed demerger outcome.

It was back in March 2020 Professor Drew submitted his Expert Report to the Minister for Local Government Hon Shelley Hancock MP.

Included in the report was his urging for a swift decision to be made to save the Cootamundra-Gundagai communities from “additional expense owing to large diseconomies of scale”.

The report also outlined how a demerger of both towns could be completed for July 1, 2020.

“Since then the Minister has allowed the Boundaries Commission to consume time holding hearings, establishing what had already been established,” Professor Drew said.

He added that in other forums, he outlined how the ‘analysis’ commissioned by the Boundaries Commission, utilised incorrect revenue, inflated costs based on poor data choice, as well as “proposed unlawful arrangements” in attempt to manufacture a report for the employer.“

The Minister has not been honest with the community and now her delays, have cost the community dearly,” Professor Drew said.

In real estate, Flemings Property Services General Manager for Sales Chris Ryan said the 53.5 per cent SRV increase is substantial and will result in an average increase of $600 per annum for owners.

He anticipated that the majority of it will be passed on to tenants, which would be an increase of about $10 a week with rent.

However, he does not think it would have a huge impact on investors and sales, considering it is already a strong investing market.

And just this Tuesday night in a Prime 7 segment, an update provided hope that there would be some light at the end of this very dark tunnel.

A day after IPART released its SRV report, State Parliament passed amendments to the Local Government Act which, allow merged Councils within the past decade to submit a case to reverse the forced amalgamations.

The Local Government Minister would then have to respond within 28 days and refer it the Boundaries Commission.

However, even if a demerger is successful, the 53.5 per cent SRV is said to remain to both autonomous and newly formed shires, although Council can reduce those percentages if it deems itself in a better financial position then.

The question now stands, “how much further will the Can be kicked down the road before the Minister makes a decision and allow these communities to recover”?

Christopher Tan