Port Macquarie-Hastings Council debates potential rate freeze amid cost-of-living concerns

AT THE recent MAY meeting of Port Macquarie-Hastings Council, councillors debated a potential rate freeze for the 2024-2025 financial year, an ongoing issue which has divided the council in half.

The proposed freeze would prevent an approximate $60 annual increase for residential rates but result in a $2.7 million revenue shortfall in the next financial year and a $33 million shortfall over ten years if no mitigation measures are taken.

This would be the second rate freeze in as many years, with rates frozen in 2022/23.

During the 16 May meeting, councillor Rachel Sheppard proposed an alternate motion that should Council adopt a rate freeze, it does so without considering borrowings or existing allocations as mitigations.

Cr Sheppard cited the community’s right to know how the shortfall would be managed and criticised the proposal to forego the rate peg as “irresponsible and reckless”.

Mayor Peta Pinson is advocating for the rate freeze, as is Cr Adam Roberts, but opposes the proposed mitigation measures proposed by Council staff.

When questioned about her preferred mitigation measures, the Mayor deferred the decision until after community consultation, which closed on 20 May.

Cr Nik Lipovak emphasised the need for clarity on what specific cuts would be implemented, while Cr Lisa Intemann condemned the freeze as politically motivated and detrimental to essential services.

“We have received voluminous accounts from the staff to indicate how detrimental this rate freeze would be to essential services and Council’s long term position,” Cr Intemann said.

“This proposal is beyond unreasonable, I think it appalling.”

Cr Danielle Maltmann supported Cr Roberts in highlighting robust spending in the draft operational plan, though Cr Sheppard argued that increased spending does not necessarily improve services.

The Council’s average rates are below those of other NSW regional councils.

The rate peg for 2024-2025 is set at 4.6 percent.

Port Macquarie-Hastings Council is one of only 20 of the 128 NSW councils that have not applied for and had the Special Variation Request approved in the last few years, despite escalating costs.

The council will revisit the issue at the 20 June, 2024 meeting.


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