Port Stephens Council Opts To Pursue Lower Rate Rise For Residents

At its Ordinary Council meeting last night, Port Stephens Council unanimously endorsed an application to the Independent Pricing and Regulatory Tribunal (IPART) for a Special Rate Variation of 9.5% each year, for three years.

An increase of 26% for one year or a consecutive rise of 10.5% over three years were the options put to residents in September. The 26% option was the one recommended to councilors in a report prepared for last night’s meeting.

But after sifting through over three hundred submissions made during the feedback process Council instead unanimously endorsed a consecutive 9.5% increase, over three years.

If approved, the Special Rate Variation will commence in the 2023-2024 financial year and will be a permanent increase that will be retained within the rate base.

General Manager Tim Crosdale said that it was a tough decision for Council.

“Over the year we’ve been working closely with our Council to investigate a range of options aimed at reducing a predicted ten-year $80 million budget shortfall,” Mr Crosdale said.

“This has included everything from reducing services, the sale of property assets, and of course, a rate increase. Since July, we’ve been out talking to our community on the options around a rate rise. While we know a rate rise discussion is very difficult, we’ve had some really objective and valuable feedback from our community.”

“We know that half of those who engaged with Council on the rate rise were supportive of a rate increase over reduced services. We also know that all our residents want to see Council keep within its means. It’s also abundantly clear that roads are an important issue for our community right now.”

“Our Council have listened, and considered the feedback from our community, agreeing to apply for a lower rate increase than originally proposed, and also find more solutions to reduce operating costs,” Mr Crosdale added.

The cumulative increase of 31.27% would include the recently announced rate cap of 4.4% for 2023-2024.

The decision to apply from Council does not automatically trigger a rate increase.

“Council will now submit an extensive application to IPART and it will be assessed against set criteria and guidelines,” Mr Crosdale said.

The community will have another chance to share their thoughts on the application to IPART once Council submits its application in early 2023.

“We will also continue to work closely with our Council on opportunities to drive increased savings.”

“We know this will be tough but I know that our staff and our Council are committed to getting the best outcomes possible for our community,” Mr Crosdale added.

Mayor Ryan Palmer said although the application for a rate variation is needed, there are some in the community that will find this increase particularly tough.

“With increasing living costs, we know that many within our community will find it tough to take on more expenses. As part of our decision to apply for a rate increase, we’re also committing to include additional affordability measures to help those most vulnerable” Mayor Palmer said.

“Its been a busy few months but it’s a positive step forward to ensuring the long term sustainability of our Council. We thank our community for sharing their thoughts on our financial future and helping us make decisions that strike a balance between the needs of our community and a funded future,” he added.