Courtesy of the Gundagai Independent. Independently owned and operated newspaper est 1898. Picture from 2016 taken at Gundagai.

CGRC Mayor Abb McAlister is encouraging residents to have their say and attend public meetings held next week in regards to Council’s intention to apply for a Special Rate Variation for the 2021-22 year.

“We really want to hear what the community has to say regarding the SRV and we are inviting the community to provide feedback on the hardship policy,” he said.

Cr McAlister added that all Councillors are conscious of the hardship the SRV may cause and that they have recently reviewed the hardship policy.

A special rate variation allows council to increase rates by more than the annual Independent Pricing and Regulatory Tribunal rate cap.

This comes in response to the significant cost pressures imposed by the May 2016 forced merger and the subsequent rate path freeze.

CGRC said the purpose of the SRV is to attain financial sustainability, with a view to maintaining service levels wherever possible.

This includes planned asset renewals.

For the public meeting, Council has engaged local government expert, Professor Joseph Drew to lead the citizen engagement.

According to CGRC, Professor Drew is “excellent” at explaining local government finance problems.

He is also one of the world’s leading local government reform scholars and a respected academics in Local Government to assist with IPART submissions.

Professor Drew said his recent research “clearly demonstrates” that the May 2016 forced amalgamations resulted in an average increase to local government unit costs in the order of 11.2 per cent.

“Unfortunately, the state government chose to also freeze rate paths, prevent SRVs and rate harmonisation for several years following amalgamation which has only made matters worse,” he said.

“Therefore, to fix the financial damage done to this community it is absolutely essential that a rather large SRV is approved for the next financial year.

“I really feel for both communities because I know they resisted this amalgamation at the time, and I wish there was a way to avoid inflicting this pain on ratepayers, but sadly there is not.”

Mitch McTavish recently having a say at the Boundaries Commission public inquiry for a de-merger. Photo: Christopher Tan.

CGRC said the cumulative impact of the special rate variation is substantial and sits at 62.6 per cent over five years, including the assumed rate peg.

Professor Drew urged ratepayers to thoroughly read the comprehensive information pack that they will receive in their post.

The material provides detailed information regarding the need for the special rate variation, as well as a guide to the effect the proposed SRV would have on average rates for the various categories of ratepayers.

“During preparation for the 2020/21 budget, council did significant work to improve efficiency and is on target to realise savings in excess of $2 million. These savings will continue in the later years,” Professor Drew said.

“Council also plans to reduce capital expenditure on transport infrastructure in 2021/22 and reduce employee costs by a further $500,000 per year from 2022/23.”

In early 2020, Professor Drew conducted a financial sustainability review on CGRC and concluded that without a substantial SRV, Council’s solvency was at risk.

One of the Big Four accounting organisation, Deloittes also confirmed that Council’s financial position was grave in their work for the Boundaries Commission.

CGRC General Manager Phil McMurray said approval for a SRV is critical to ensure solvency.

“Employee cost cuts of 25 per cent and capital expenditure of 30 per cent, or a combination of both at worst could occur if we don’t get the SRV approved,” he said.

“We believe the community would not find the significant decline in infrastructure and services that would occur under these scenarios, to be acceptable.”

CGRC will hold two public meetings to present the case for a SRV and receive community feedback.

These meetings will be held next Monday January 18 at the Gundagai Services Club from 7pm till 8.30pm, and on Tuesday January 19 at the Cootamundra Ex-Services Club at the same time.

Council will also be conducting listening posts in Gundagai on January 20 outside Foodworks Supermarket from 9am till 5pm, and in Cootamundra on January 21 outside IGA Supermarket from 9am till 5pm.

In addition, the community are invited to fill in the SRV survey form that will be included in the information, that will soon be arriving in mailboxes or pick one up by dropping into Council offices in Cootamundra or Gundagai.

Christopher Tan