AFTER a turbulent two years marred by several legal battles, the Orange Ratepayers Association wants to get back to its core purpose of being an independent voice and has unveiled a new list of priorities it wants Orange City Council to tackle in 2014.
Treasurer John Da Rin said the group had about 30 members, but he hoped more would return to the fold, as a legal challenge to have councillor Kevin Duffy dismissed from office and former-councillor Fiona Rossiter’s apprehended violence order (AVO) against two former officebearers were both finalised.
“We realise that the community may be still questioning the association because of the Duffy matter and the length of time it’s taken,” he said.
“[The legal matters] have put an unnecessary stain on the association, but it was started in good faith and we’ll continue to monitor council.”
The association’s first priority for the council is to bring down rates and charges to a “reasonable level” and look at ways to save money.
In particular, the group criticised the council’s decision to increase sewer charges by 10 per cent, waste fees by 5.5 per cent and water charges by 5 per cent in May “gouging more money from ratepayers” while avoiding the state government’s 3.4 per cent cap on general rates.
Mr Da Rin acknowledged the need for a new waste recovery centre, but said the money to introduce green bins would have been better spent on compost bins for each household.
“[The residents] wouldn’t have to use the compost ... they could let it go and it would break down over a period of time,” he said.
The group believes single-person pensioner households, accounting for about 10.2 per cent of the population in the 2011 census, should not have to pay the same rates as residences with several income-earning residents.
“If you’ve got five miners living in a house getting six-figure salaries ... they’re using a fair range of services,” Mr Da Rin said.
“People over 65 who have worked all there lives are being asked to continue paying higher rates even though they’re using less services.”
He believes a 10 per cent pensioner rate rebate should be reintroduced beyond the 5 per cent discount started last year.
The group also wants the rating system to reflect the “user pays ethic”, which would mean raising the price of user-pay council facilities such as the pool and theatre, and looking at extra charges for library services, which Mr Da Rin acknowledged would be unpopular.
What members of the Orange Ratepayers Association want the council to prioritise in 2014:
* Bring rates and charges down to a reasonable level.
* Better financial management. Use ratepayer funds to maintain roads and essential maintenance before embarking on new projects such as redeveloping the old hospital site.
* Upgrade the Northern Distributor Road surface.
* Increase stormwater harvesting.
* Rate rebate for single person pension households.
* Orange Showground improvements.
* More consultation for development applications (DA) to avoid a repeat of the north Orange McDonald’s “fiasco”.
ORANGE City Council could get the okay to operate its stormwater harvesting scheme at full capacity within months if it is signed off by a Land Board tribunal.
Technical services director Chris Devitt said currently the council was not harvesting any stormwater.
The Blackmans Swamp scheme can only operate when Suma Park Dam is at 50 per cent and although the Ploughmans Creek scheme has approval to operate at any time, Mr Devitt said there were technical issues preventing its operation.
“The Ploughmans scheme uses some of the infrastructure of the Blackmans scheme so we can’t easily use it,” he said.
Mr Devitt said the council could bypass sections of the Blackmans scheme if there was a dire need for water, but had decided to wait for the next round of Land Board hearings expected early this year.
“Land Boards are a step down from the Land and Environment Court,” he said.
“When we sought formal approval for operating the scheme beyond the emergency levels there were objections from downstream users.”
Mr Devitt said the council was confident the many checks and balances attached to the conditions of consent for the schemes meant there would be no adverse impacts.
The Orange Ratepayers Association believed getting the scheme up and running should be one of the council’s top priorities, and Mr Devitt agreed.