9.5pc rate hike passed

TWEED Shire councillors are pushing ahead with a 9.5 per cent hike in council rates after hearing residents can afford it because most will get the Federal Government's $900 tax bonus aimed at stimulating the economy.

They have rejected pleas to slash the rates increase which was approved as part of the council's controversial seven-year plan by the NSW Government back in August 2007, before the worldwide economic downturn struck.

At Tuesday night's council meeting several councillors, led by Cr Warren Polglase, pushed for a reduction in the hike to just 6.5 per cent, while mayor Joan van Lieshout said she wanted to keep it to 4.75 per cent.

But councillors van Lieshout, Polglase and Phil Youngblutt, who said the economic downturn made it necessary for the council to “bite the bullet” and cut costs, were rolled on a four-three vote.

Leading the charge for the higher increase, deputy mayor Barry Longland cited the $900 Federal Government tax bonus which started appearing in some taxpayers' bank accounts late last week.

“The $900 payout will go to every taxpayer who had a taxable income of less than $80,000,” Cr Longland said.

“Sixty-four dollars a year is the average rate increase. It would be very irresponsible for us to take a short-term populist decision to dig a big hole. We just risk digging ourselves into a deep hole by going weak at the knees on the seven-year plan. ”

Calling for a maximum increase of 6.5 per cent, Cr Polglase said that would still allow most planned new council work, including beautification of Jack Evans Boat Harbour at Tweed Heads, to go ahead.

“In two years time we may have the opportunity to gear up a lot higher,” he said.

He was backed by Cr Youngblutt who said cutting the rate hike by three per cent would not cost any council jobs and councillors could come back in next year's budget and “look at it again”.

Cr van Lieshout said times ahead were going to be tough.

“I would have liked to have seen 4.75 per cent as the highest we would go,” she said.

“We are facing a huge change economically. We need to look within council itself for other opportunities to save money.”

Council's corporate affairs director Troy Green yesterday said the 9.5 per cent increase applied only to the general rate. After proposed sewerage, rubbish and water charges were considered the increase in average total rates bills was likely to be 6.29 per cent.

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