Mayoral Minute debate reflects mounting fiscal debate

THE June ordinary meeting of Port Macquarie-Hastings Council saw fierce debate over the proposed rate freeze for the 2024/25 Operational Plan, and it began in the Mayoral Minutes.

Mayor Peta Pinson initiated the discussion, emphasising that despite feedback from 75 percent of respondents opposing the rate freeze, only 250 out of 82,762 residents in the Port Macquarie-Hastings area participated in the survey.

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Councillor Rachel Sheppard countered, noting that an additional 50 submissions from respected community bodies, such as the Wauchope Chamber of Commerce and multiple tourism organisations, were also received.

Councillor Nik Lipovac stressed the importance of allowing all members to speak on these significant community issues.

Councillor Lisa Intemann noted that both internal and external stakeholders had provided advice against a rate freeze.

“We had council advice, independent financial advice, and now a caution from the Office of Local Government against supporting a rate freeze,” she said.

“The Local Government office should prioritise current advice over election promises.”

Councillor Sheppard then proposed an amendment, seconded by Councillor Edwards, expressing concern over the zero percent rate increase decision.

“The sewer fund will be close to $100 million in deficit in ten years,” Cr Sheppard said.

Arguing for efficiency, Councillor Adam Roberts opposed the amendment.

“We need to ensure our processes, practices, and projects are efficient.

“This isn’t just political; it’s been a strong policy position for years,” he said, referring to the rate peg increase.

Councillor Lauren Edwards questioned Roberts on the financial model’s sustainability.

“If we don’t pressure ourselves to be more efficient, it may never happen,” Cr Roberts responded.

Councillor Intemann then queried Council CEO Dr Clare Allen on the impact of a special rate variation.

“A 4.6 percent increase was deemed appropriate to cover rising costs,” Dr Allen explained.

“Many councils apply for special rate variations because standard increases aren’t enough.

“A rate freeze now could necessitate a special rate variation next year, leading to higher rates.”

Mayor Pinson argued against the amendment, citing the need for extensive improvements to the sewer and water networks.

“Our CEO and staff deserve commendation for their transformative work,” she said.

Councillor Edwards asked Dr Allen if the rate freeze would affect the Council’s transformation efforts.

Dr Allen confirmed that the staff, including herself, recommended accepting the 4.6 percent increase.

The amendment was ultimately defeated, with Councillors Pinson, Roberts, Maltmann and Slade voting against it.

The decision underscores the ongoing tension between fiscal responsibility and community expectations in local governance.


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