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Council not fit for the future

Council’s controversial decision not to impose a special rate variation (SRV) earlier this year may have played a big role in the Independent Pricing and Regulatory Tribunal’s decision to label Yass Valley Council not Fit for the Future (FFTF).
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Out of 139 local councils in NSW, a total of 88 had their proposals for independence officially rejected on Tuesday and it means Yass may be forced to merge with a surrounding council.

YVC General Manager David Rowe did not want to comment in depth.

“YVC has been asked to respond to IPART’s report by Wednesday, November 18. To do this and to determine what is the best solution for the community, YVC will be holding discussions with councillors and staff, as well as meeting with neighbouring councils to discuss options. A report will be prepared for next week’s council meeting (Wednesday October 28) for further discussion,” he said in a brief statement.

The decision is a tough one to digest for Yass Valley Council, following months of hard work leading up to the Fit for the Future submission in June.

The submission fell down in just one of the four categories – sustainablity.

Mayor Rowena Abbey claimed council’s decision to defer the proposed special rate variation on top of the usual 2.4 per cent rate peg at the August Ordinary Council Meeting has not helped support the plan to achieve the long term sustainability that the state government asked all NSW councils to prove during the FFTF process.

“Look, it was not what I wanted, but it was what the majority wanted and that’s what you go with. I think we might have had a better shot if we did impose that rise, though.”

The IPART report also makes specific mention of that decision from councillors.

“… the council has recently informed us it does not intend to proceed with the special variation discussed in its FFTF proposal until after the September 2016 elections due to a receipt of additional Roads to Recovery funding from the federal government. This unexpected change in approach by the council to the key improvement strategy suggests council may not be able to return to the operating balance or surplus in the required timeframe,” the report states.

Councillor Jasmin Jones disagreed entirely and said that council’s decision to go against a special rate rise was an intelligent one.

“The bar was set extremely high for regional rural councils to meet the state government’s FFTF bench marks and as we can see the majority were not declared fit. As the report indicated, Yass Valley Council was declared fit on scale and capacity but unfit on financial sustainability by the state government’s FFTF parameters in addition to the decision not to proceed with the rate rise, so I believe council made a prudent decision to stay flexible and spare residents an increase after the federal government kicked in substantial funds to roads and bridges,” she said.

Despite ultimately falling short of one of the four criteria used by IPART, Cr Abbey said this result does not mean council has failed.

“This isn’t a failure by any means, we always knew the financial sustainablity criteria was going to be the tough one for many councils including ours, and now we just have to look at what needs to be done to prove that we have the ability to become fit.”

Nearby councils including Goulburn Mulwaree, Palerang, Queanbeyan and Upper Lachlan also failed in their bids to be fit for the future.

Last night Yass Valley councillors met as a group to discuss options available for local residents.

“The state government is clearly pushing for many councils across the state to amalgamate and we have been given until November 18 to respond to the IPART report,” Cr Abbey added.

The uncertain future of a number of rural and metropolitan councils comes less than a year out from local government elections scheduled for September, 2016.

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