Rates to stay frozen after week of political toing and froing

TO say it has been a tumultuous week in local government politics would be an understatement.

Following Port Macquarie–Hastings Council’s (PMHC) decision on Thursday, 20 June, to adopt a zero rate peg for 2024-25, a heated and public tug-of-war has played out between those councillors who supported the freeze and those who did not.

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Councillors Rachel Sheppard, Nik Lipovac, Lisa Intemann and Lauren Edwards lodged a Notice of Rescission on Monday to have the rate freeze overturned.

They also sought a reversal of the decision to abolish the Town Centre Master Plan (TCMP) component of the Port Macquarie CBD Business Rate.

Both were part of the 2024-25 Operational Plan, which was carried by Mayor Peta Pinson’s casting vote.

In order to rescind that approval, an extraordinary meeting needed to have been held this week to vote on the motion and none of the other four councillors were available, which meant a quorum could not be reached.

In a joint statement released on Wednesday morning, Mayor Peta Pinson said, “Following councillors Lipovac, Edwards, Sheppard and Intemann calling for an extraordinary meeting to suit their desire to overturn a rate freeze via a rescission motion, as Mayor I advised staff immediately that I was unavailable to attend.

“Councillor Maltman is unwell with the flu and councillors Slade and Roberts have prior business commitments.
“Should we have been able to hold the meeting next week, a quorum would have been possible.”

The upshot is that rates will stay frozen.

“As a result,” Cr Sheppard said, “PMHC is burdened with a rate freeze that was determined by a non-majority vote of councillors, against the advice of the Deputy Secretary [of the] OLG (Office of Local Government), independent financial specialists, council directors, and community engagement.”

Member for Port Macquarie Leslie Williams had weighed into the debate even before the Notice of Rescission, criticising the councillors who supported the freeze for putting “their own political agenda ahead of the community”.

“They are overseeing the Council plunging into a net deficit of approximately $8 million from a reported surplus in 2023 of $6.5 million, but this advice was totally disregarded.”

In response, the Mayor disagreed.

“Team Pinson went to the 2021 election with a policy position to freeze rates for the full term of Council on the basis of assisting our local economy to recover after bushfires, floods, a COVID lockdown and a cost of living crisis, whilst also putting pressure on the Council organisation to be more efficient when using ratepayer funds on operational practices.

“The decision to freeze rates this year was delivered at the June 20 Council meeting, knowing full well that with more than $400 million in Council cash reserves, it can be afforded at this time.”


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