HAWKESBURY Council has elected to adopt its proposed Special Rate Variation, as it passed its 2018-19 operating budget on June 13.
The rise above rate pegging has been looming for some time, as the Gazette has reported, but at the extraordinary meeting of Council on Wednesday night it was adopted.
Council rates will rise by 9.5 per cent – or about seven per cent above the rate pegging level – for the 2018-19 financial year, as compared with 2017-18.
Council also passed its operating budget for the coming financial year, meaning its operations are funded. The vote on the budget was won 8-4.
Tacked onto the motion to pass the budget, was an addition to look into fixing traffic problems at Mitchell Drive in Glossodia, as well as revisiting the unsealed roads list with a view to changing the priorities.
The debate, which lasted roughly two hours, was bitter, with many councillors exchanging heated barbs. A large crowd also joined in, with many interjections from the gallery.
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The meeting was adjourned at one point by the Mayor after being interrupted by Liberal councillor Tiffany Tree, who later apologised for her interruption.
The four Liberal councillors voted against the budget.
Meanwhile, the Mayor, deputy Mayor and remaining balance of councillors voted in favour of it.
Mayor Lyons-Buckett said it was a tough choice that needed to be made to ensure the Hawkesbury’s infrastructure was up to scratch.
Cr Tree said she was not opposed to a Special Rate Variation, but was opposed to the current ratings structure, which she said was unfair.
She added she was worried about how the extra revenue raised will be spent.
Independent Cr Paul Rasmussen said state and federal government cost shifting onto Council had necessitated the rate rise. He also said the rate rise would be positive for the region as a whole.
“It will deliver significant change, it will transform the Hawkesbury,” he said.
Independent Cr Peter Reynolds, who is also the state Labor candidate for the 2019 election, also spoke at length about cost shifting and the impact it had on Council.
Cr Tree said she agreed cost shifting was an issue, however, added that the current Council undertook many issues that were not ‘traditional’, and this also affected Council’s bottom line.
Fellow Liberal Patrick Conolly said he felt the ‘workshops’ that Council held about rates were never going to have an impact, and complained that the Liberals’ suggestions were not heard, although this was refuted by several other councillors.
Greens Cr Danielle Wheeler said the extra money raised would go toward improving infrastructure.
She also said Council was a major employer in the area, and having locals employed there was good for the region.
Cr Garrow, who moved the motion regarding Mitchell Drive, said it was a long running issue that needed resolution.
Liberal Nathan Zamprogno said he did not dispute Cr Garrow’s comments, but questioned why it was being tacked on just before the budget was passed.
Liberal Sarah Richards said she too wanted to see a resolution to the traffic issues in Mitchell Drive, but also spoke strongly against the need for a Special Rate Variation.
The Special Rate Variation will see rates rise by another 9.5 per cent each year in 2019-20 and 2020-21, provided Council budgets are passed.
Mayor Lyons-Buckett, deputy Mayor Calvert, and Crs Ross, Rasmussen, Garrow, Reynolds, Wheeler and Kotlash voted in favour.
Crs Zamprogno, Conolly, Tree and Richards voted against.