Rates affordability called into question, but Mayor argues there's 'no surprises'

HEFTY COST: Orange Ratepayers Association vice-president Gary Kind has questioned ratepayers’ capability to cover their rates as they continue to rise. Photo: JUDE KEOGH  0430rates

HEFTY COST: Orange Ratepayers Association vice-president Gary Kind has questioned ratepayers’ capability to cover their rates as they continue to rise. Photo: JUDE KEOGH 0430rates

RATEPAYERS have received their final rates notices for this financial year and, while they should contain no surprises, some residents are still unhappy with the bottom line.

The 14,000 notices contained the 3.4 per cent rate increase set by the Independent Pricing and Regulatory Tribunal for the 2013-14 financial year, plus a 10 per cent sewer rate increase and 5 per cent water rate increase approved by Orange councillors last year. 

Orange mayor John Davis said the notices should be in line with expectations.

“There’s no surprises, we haven’t asked for rate increases outside the state guidelines, unlike some other councils,” he said.

“That’s not to say that it’s easier or cheaper, but if ratepayers want the package we offer, that’s the budget we have to have.”

He said some critics would always argue rates should not rise at all, but it would be irresponsible to follow that path because the council’s costs rose more than the rate peg.

STORY: COUNCILLORS WEIGH IN ON RAISING WATER, SEWER AND WASTE COSTS

“We have got to become more efficient,” he said.

Orange is one of the highest-rating councils in the state, however, Cr Davis said other councils were catching up as they grew their amenities.

But the Orange Ratepayers Association said covering the charges continued to be difficult for ratepayers.

Vice-president Gary Kind said he had encountered several aged pensioners who struggled with rates affordability during his five years volunteering at St Vincent de Paul, and the pressure had only increased.

“They say as food goes up, they buy smarter and as electricity goes up, they use less, but they can’t do a thing about rates,” he said.

“There’s no surprises, we haven’t asked for rate increases outside the state guidelines, unlike some other councils"

Ratepayers association committee member Denis Mead questioned rising water and sewerage rates, saying the council charged its utilities growing management fees, which it could then use as general revenue to cover other costs.

“They do that in order to beat the rate cap. It’s a big misuse of ratepayers’ money,” Mr Mead said.

“It’s going to put pressure on ratepayers and it’s affording the council a way out of addressing priority management.”

However, Orange City Council spokesman Allan Reeder said all levies and charges were levied in line with state government regulations.

“Revenue for each purpose must be kept separately,” he said.

“Funds raised for sewer and water can only be spent on sewer and water, and can’t go into general revenue. 

“The increases in the water and sewer charges are designed to put into the water and sewer funds, which pay for that basic but necessary infrastructure work, back into the black.”

danielle.cetinski@fairfaxmedia.com.au

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