It’s all about trust, folks . . . .

 

 The Midcoast Council was not elected by the community, yet they are contriving to foist a gold-plated bridge on Wingham, possibly lose the community funded swimming pool forever, and ram through a rate rise (SRV) before the Council election in September, all under the guise of “community consultation.”

By producing their own surveys, polls, and so called “community feedback” of misleading and confusing  information, they are pushing  ahead with an agenda most of the community either doesn’t know about, or agree with, and has little power in influencing, yet Council maintains we have agreed to all of the above.

Is this a council we can trust?

Let’s look at some of these issues.

SRV rate rise

On May 1 this year, late on Friday afternoon, MidCoast Council issued a news brief which included a short paragraph that they were submitting an application for an SRV increase “….of 5% (including the rate peg), each year over a 4 year period, along with the harmonisation of the environmental rate at 6% across the MidCoast local government area. Should the application be approved, the SRV will come into effect from 1 July 2017.”

 Compounded over four years, that adds an amount which ratepayers in one of the poorest postcodes in the nation, will find painful.

More disturbingly, the Council says it has been able to take its request to the NSW Parliament based on the . . “ special rate variation (SRV) proposal developed and taken to the MidCoast community late last year.” 

Remember that?

Sole Exception

Why is MidCoast Council the only council in NSW, among the recently amalgamated councils, the sole one to be eligible to apply for a SRV, when the former Premier promised the newly merged councils they would not have to pay more for their rates for a four year period?

The Chairman of local community action group, the Manning Alliance, former chairman and ex GTCC Councillor, Peter Epov, has done some investigating.

Peter Epov, you may recall, led the successful fight to stop Transgrid putting up unnecessary gold plated power lines in the Manning Valley.

Peter Epov picks up the trail . . .

‘It was five to 9pm March 28 this year in the NSW Upper House, where the second reading of a little known piece of legislation had just passed through the Legislative Council, when a member, Paul Green from the Christian Democratic Party stood, without prior notice, or public declaration of intent, and moved an extra-ordinary amendment that, in effect, provided for one solitary Council, of the 20 amalgamated NSW councils in 2016, to be exempt from the bill which promised the people of NSW there would be a freeze on Special Rate Variation applications for four years.

There was no opposition from the Coalition.

One has to ask why a member of the Christian Democratic Party, which has little if any presence in our area, would introduce such a significant amendment, and not our illustrious Member, Stephen Bromhead? (Mr Green did attend school in Wingham for a time, but seems to have little involvement with the area now.)

In  speaking to his amendment, Mr Green said, “The MidCoast Council has engaged with the community regarding an amended Special Rate Variation proposal. The modest proposal was for an increase of five percent, including the rate peg, each year over a four year period.  . . . .The MidCoast Council undertook a community satisfaction survey, which was overseen by Jetty Research.”  He also stated, “Across the region (of 86,000 residents according to the 2011 census ) 32% of people supported the SRV as proposed, with an additional  44% supporting it at a lower amount. The total of 76 percent support for a SRV as proposed, or a lesser amount, is a significant result in the context of a newly merged council.”’

In 2015, the Greater Taree City Council tried similar surveys to represent community sentiment for an SRV.

Says then Councillor Peter Epov, ‘The surveys contained deliberately  misleading and tricky questions (designed by psychologists to achieve the answers you wish to obtain) where, for example, the entire context was not provided; such as the compounding effects of proposed multi year rate rises. Mr Green should have been aware that, for any submission to be made exempt from the SRV, it needs to be supported by the range of evidence required by IPART (Independent Pricing and Regulatory Tribunal) to establish the extent of community engagement and support from a number of obvious sources, and should not have relied on  the representation  of a Government appointed Administrator, representing an unelected and unrepresented Council.’

Mr Epov’s concerns about a perceived inaccurate survey led him to investigate the findings of Jetty Research’s poll in Nov 2016.

‘The survey company identified and “pre-screened” a sample 570 respondents, who agreed to participate in the Survey, and so were each sent an information pack.

After receiving the pack, 163 people of the 570 (or 29% of those who agreed to participate) refused to take part. One could assume these people were not interested in supporting an SRV. The refusal of these people to participate must compromise the quality of the survey and the reliability of the data.  One could conclude that those who did participate in the survey were already pre-disposed to support a rate-rise.

The Survey consisted of  225 people from the former GTCC area, representing 0.48 of 1% of the entire Taree Council area population; 225 people from the former Great Lakes Council, representing  0.65 of 1% of the Great Lakes Council population; 100 people from the former Gloucester Shire Council area representing 2% of the entire Gloucester population. The balance of 20 persons to make up the 570 were not accounted for by the Survey. Whilst this might seem a small number “missing,” it represents 5% not accounted for in the poll. Further, the poll was also corrupted by the fact that 8% of those polled were not even ratepayers.  In the Manning, 11% polled were not ratepayers and, in Gloucester, it was 12% non ratepayers.

The polling company identifies an error rate of 5% and published a disclaimer which includes the statement: , “Jetty Research Pty. Ltd. does not warrant the accuracy of the information contained within and accepts no liability for any loss or damage that may be suffered as a result of reliance on this information.”

This hardly seems overwhelming support to justify the breaking of the NSW Government’s pledge of no rate rise for four years!’

Bill Passed

Following Mr Green’s amendment, the  bill went through a third reading in the Upper House, was sent down to the Legislative assembly and, the next day, March 29, it breezed through the Chamber.

State Member Stephen Bromhead stated,  “If the MidCoast Council chooses to apply for a rate rise and the Independent Pricing and Regulatory Tribunal (IPART) agrees to it, there may be a rate rise. This is a win for the ratepayers of the MidCoast Council.  If the MidCoast Council does that and it is determined that it will be 20 percent over four years, including the rate cap – as was discussed with the community – there will be no adverse impact.”

Mr Epov contacted Mr Paul Green and asked why he moved the amendment, and Mr Green replied to him, “Quite simply  because we had representation from your Council who put a good case to be exempted, which was  backed by community survey support. Hope that helps.”’ ‘

So, on May 1,  MidCoast Council initiated the first step of the process to lodge an application for an SRV, by convening an Extraordinary General Meeting of Council, to consider the Addendum which will now be exhibited for community comment until May 29.

Neither the Administrator, John Turner, nor the Acting General Manager, Glenn Handford, issued any advanced notices nor press releases to inform and advise the Community that they would move retrospective changes to the nearly expired Delivery Program – Operational Plan 2016/17 Plan – that, in effect, would allow them to apply to IPART for an SRV rate rise in June 2017. This means, if approved by IPART, a rate increase will be factored into the community’s 2017/18 rates in August. The meeting lasted 19 minutes.

THIS IS THE LAST CHANCE TO HAVE YOUR SAY

The Delivery Program – Operational Plan 2016/17 Plan with an SRV Scenario is now on exhibition and submissions will close on the 28th May 2017. For more information you can go to –

http://www.midcoast.nsw.gov.au/Council/Special-Rate-Variation

 

 

 

 

 

 

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