Storm clouds gathering at Casino, an omen for Richmond Valley Council’s Special Rate Variation application to the Independent Pricing and Regulatory Tribunal?
On the 18th of February 2014 Richmond Valley Council agreed unanimously to a Special Rate Variation (SRV) Application which will increase rates (based on material provided by IPART) by 42.5% over five years for residential ratepayers:
This proposed increase is the third highest in NSW with only Tenterfield and Holroyd higher out of the 32 councils who got their applications in on time (24 February).
For one of the most socially-disadvantaged local government areas in NSW this proposed increase is truly remarkable. Despite what council says, there is no demonstrated support from the community for the actual proposed increase as the information provided to the community when the survey was taken did not, in the view of VWD, tell the whole story of the cumulative effects of the proposed rate rise over time and contained summary comparison information with other Group 4 councils which was incorrect.
The survey was taken between the 2nd and 5th of December 2013 BEFORE council held its community consultation meetings attended by only 16 people, and the final application was not available for public scrutiny until the 14th of February, 4 days before the matter was considered by council and 10 days before it was due with IPART.
Survey material from Micromex which prepared its survey material in conjunction with Richmond Valley Council. The survey of 400 people was done between the 2nd and 5th of December before Council held its public consultation meetings on the 9th and 10th of December 2013 (with only 5 to 6 days notice). The General Manager had written a letter dated 20 November 2013 about the SRV but it contained no information about the cumulative impact of the rates over time but instead gave information about what people might expect to pay based on an AVERAGE rate per week. It was not clear what the “average” per week would be after five years.
While 74% knew that council was seeking to make an application for an SRV it cannot be concluded, as council did, that people were informed about the details and impacts of the proposal. That question was never asked.
Council shows from survey data that 74% knew about a potential increase but council provides NO evidence showing that the community actually understood and agreed with the proposed application put to council on the 18th of February. Here’s what council had to say about the 74% response to its micromex survey: “The 74% success rate demonstrates that Council had been effective in its Communication Plan to inform the Community of the details and impacts of the proposal”. Not so. This interpretation goes well beyond the data. The best council can say is that 74% knew about the proposal and nothing more. Community consultation, such as it was, was abysmal. In the view of VWD, IPART should reject Council’s application. It certainly has lots of grounds on which to throw it out and VWD looks at one of these matters here.