By TONY FOSTER
I AM pleased to be able to report that Brighton Council will keep its rate rise in line with the Consumer Price Index (CPI) increase for the coming year.
This will mean a rate rise of just $19 for the year for all residential households in the municipality. The Council’s budget and rate rise, approved in principle at the May Council meeting are reported on in this issue of Brighton Community News.
As you can read, it is the 22nd year in succession Council has been able to keep rate rises at or below the annual rate of inflation, but sadly, this commitment is under threat purely by the actions of the State Government and particularly by Treasurer Peter Gutwein.The Auditor-General has acknowledged Brighton has the lowest per capita rates in Tasmania and as a Council, we are proud we have been able to achieve this record through efficient management and administration. This has been aided by the sharing of resources with other like-minded councils and the operations of our innovative technology business, Microwise Australia.
However, Mr Gutwein’s unprecedented move to arbitrarily takeover TasWater, the statewide water and sewerage business collectively owned by our 29 councils and you the ratepayer, is threatening to significantly cut the revenue available to local government in the future.
Under the State Government’s plan councils, including Brighton, are being offered just six cents in the dollar for their multi-billion dollar investment in TasWater. Brighton’s investment in TasWater is valued at more than $46 million, paid for by every Brighton ratepayer. Yet under Mr Gutwein’s deceitful plan, our guaranteed return over the next eight years will be less than $3 million. Our losses would be even greater into the future.
No credible financial adviser would recommend acceptance of such a deal and Brighton has led the charge in opposing the takeover. This position was supported by an overwhelming majority of Tasmanian councils at a special meeting of the Local Government Association of Tasmania on May 11.
A loss of this magnitude would place Brighton’s finances under significant pressure and seriously harm our capacity to retain our fair rating system that enables us to hold down rate increases.
But perhaps this is Mr Gutwein’s intention as it appears he’s no great fan of Brighton’s innovative approach and our unique support of our ratepayers and our community.
The Treasurer’s aggressive (some would describe as ‘bullying’) approach to TasWater and local government on this issue contrasts markedly with his announcement of a $60 million pool of funding for interest-free loans for councils to bring forward infrastructure projects such as road repairs and upgrading sports and community facilities.
While this may be seen as poor economics, simply bringing forward future planned projects to create activity now that may well result in reduced jobs and economic growth in the years ahead when this may be needed, at least it represents positive support for local government. This is something that has been sadly lacking from this Minister during the past three years of his administration.
The belligerent actions of Mr Gutwein and the State Liberals also contrast significantly with those of the Federal Liberals in Canberra who continue to strongly support projects in Brighton.
As the story in this issue of our newspaper reports, the coming year should see the replacement of the Covehill Bridge and a complete redevelopment of the Brighton Bowls and Community Club building, with both projects enjoying strong funding support from the Federal Government.
The current attitude of the State Government and Treasurer, Peter Gutwein who is also Minister for Local Government, is disappointing.
Brighton Council has always tried to work with State and Federal Governments, irrespective of the party in power, and largely, we have been successful. We will continue to strive to work cooperatively and seek the best outcomes for our municipality and its ratepayers. However, Mr Gutwein’s intransigent and often unreasonable approach does make this a significant challenge at times.