Just before a previous Tweed Shire Council meeting got underway at the Murwillumbah council chambers earlier this year.
Just before a previous Tweed Shire Council meeting got underway at the Murwillumbah council chambers earlier this year. Jessica Lamb

New waivers launched but council divided on rates freeze

TEN new money-saving measures have been implemented by the Tweed Shire Council to help ease the pain in residents' pockets during the coronavirus pandemic.

However one councillor claims the economic reprieve does not go far enough for ratepayers.

After unanimous votes at Thursday's first online council meeting, locals will now have access to fee waivers, rebates and the option for rate deferrals for up to two years as part of the assistance package costing the council more than $633,000.

<<READ OUR ROLLING COVERAGE OF THE COUNCIL MEETING HERE>>

Cr Warren Polglase presented a further motion to freeze all rate increases, including fees and charges, in the 2020-2021 budget.

After a heated debate, the motion was defeated four votes to three. Councillors James Owen, Reece Byrnes and Polglase supported the motion.

Cr Polglase said the stimulus package which passed was "a bit ordinary" considering the size of the council's budget "for the community we represent".

"The proposal I put forward was $1.6 million and would give relief to everyone," he said. "I am asking for a freeze on our rates and charges for a period of 12 months.

"I want to help all the community, not just a small portion of the community."

Opposition to the proposal included Cr Pryce Allsop saying he would rather council have money to safeguard for the uncertain future should the coronavirus not plateau.

Cr Ron Cooper said the motion would burden future ratepayers as he had witnessed in past councils when "we had to go through seven years of more-than-normal rate rises".

Mayor Katie Milne said freezing all rates would not benefit those who needed it most, including tenants.

"We are also looking at the other financial impacts we (the council) are wearing, the loss of five of our seven holiday parks as well as no income coming in from our swimming pools," Cr Milne said.

She estimated the holiday parks were bringing in around $7 million a year, which would not happen this year.

The 10 financial measures passed are:

1. Deferral of two quarters (Q4 2019/2020 and Q1 2020/2021) of rate instalments on application for residents and businesses that can demonstrate that have been negatively financially impacted by Covid-19. The deferral will attract zero interest and will be repayable over a two-year period from Quarter 2, 2020/2021. The estimated cost to the council is $205,000.

2. Waiver/rebate of all outdoor dining fees for 12 months (est. cost $90,000).

3. Rebate of annual airfield lease for commercial businesses directly affected by Covid-19 aviation downturn at the Murwillumbah Airfield for 2020 (est. cost $30,000).

4. 50 per cent reduction for cattle saleyards for 2020 (est. $5000).

5. 80 per cent rent reduction for Visitor Information Centres (est. $32,000).

6. Waiving licensing fees at the Tweed Marina for 2020 (est. $138,000).

7. Waiving/refunding booking/licence fees for council facilities, venues or parks for 2020 (est. $100,000).

8. Waiver of development application fees relating to the Covid-19 emergency for 12 months commencing 3 April 2020 (est. $20,000).

9. Waiving the parking cost at the council-owned carpark in Murwillumbah for six months commencing 3 April 2020 (est. $13,000).

10. Pause/deferment on payments on council loans for six months for all not-for-profit and sporting clubs commencing 3 April 2020.

Cr Chris Cherry commended Cr Byrnes and Cr Polglase for putting forward two separate motions exploring options for financial relief for Tweed residents which sparked the fires behind the Covid-19 Economic Stimulus Measures.

Yesterday, Cr Milne estimated the impact of the coronavirus to the council's budget to be about $3 million.



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