Community consultation review
A more effective community consultation process on draft budgets appears set to be on Federation Council’s agenda.
Although the question of special rate rises above the state capped rate has been mentioned for over a year, few people have turned up to council’s special drop-in sessions throughout the Federation Council area relating to budgets incorporating council’s proposals.
Council resolved, at its latest monthly meeting on January 31, in Urana to endorse the Special Rate Variation (SRV) of 19%, 17%, 14% and 10% for the next four financial years, on top of the state cap rise. Approval for the SRV as per council’s application – submitted last Friday - must be given by the Independent Pricing and Regulatory Board (IPART) which is expected by mid-May.
Council’s resolution last week also included calling for a report by council staff, advising of additional pensioner concession options that could be applied to assist ratepayers most impacted by the big increases.
Cr David Fahey OAM led that charge, based on input including that from Mulwala Progress Association.
Before they voted, councillors were addressed by council’s appointed Rates Advisory Group Chairman Derek Schoen. He said advisory group members discussed at length their concerns about “the lack of effective community engagement regarding the SRV” by council.
“Council staff have stated that there has been extensive community engagement on the SRV, if so, you councillors will have to revisit how information is disseminated to the community as most people that committee members talk to are astonished to hear about a 60 per cent rate increase which becomes 75 per cent cumulative,” Mr Schoen said.
“If the ratepayer satisfaction survey doesn’t mention a 60 per cent SRV or 75 per cent SRV it cannot be considered community engagement.
“It is unfortunate that this committee was not used earlier in the SRV community engagement process.”
Mayor Pat Bourke thanked Mr Schoen for his five-minute address which was met with a round of applause from councillors and committee members.
“I hope committees like yours continue on so we have good resources working on significant matters such as this,” the mayor said.
Council’s resolution last week followed a recommendation from its director corporate and community services Jo Shannon for endorsement of the SRV. It became the motion.
It seemed all councillors were to vote for the motion but Cr Aaron Nicholls wanted two extra points added to the three-point recommendation by Ms Shannon (which included the SRV).
An amendment was moved by Cr Nicholls which included calling for more community consultation – specifically seeking a staff report for a planned community engagement strategy for the remainder of the SRV application and implementation process – and more emphasis on the ‘how’, not just the ‘why’.
Before the vote for the amendment was put, Cr Sally Hughes said she attended the drop-in sessions in towns where council couldn’t gain an appreciation of vulnerable people throughout the Federation Council area as they were not in attendance.
Cr Rowena Black expressed her concerns about community consultation, saying she would like to see council and community working closer together on matters such as the SRV. “I’m not sure about how much the SRV should be but I believe we have to be clearer,” she said.
All councillors acknowledged the substantial time devoted to the subject with investigation and report writing by council staff.
Deputy Mayor Shaun Whitechurch spoke against the amendment arguing the SRV was the essential, now urgent, component of what council should be deciding on to meet community needs without further delay.
The amendment was lost. The motion for the SRV was carried 7-3, with Crs Nicholls, Hughes and Black against the motion.
Mayor Pat Bourke described the SRV as “a massive decision“and “a very tough call for a council to investigate” and delivered a message.
“It’s not business as usual,” he told councillors. “We have to make sure that we do gain efficiencies and we get the best outcomes for our communities – that all funds are delivered fairly, equitably and with as much efficiencies as we can possibly find.”