What are you willing to pay for?

Blue Mountains Council is asking for the community to be "part of the decision making process" before looking at rate hikes to maintain or improve services. Mayor Mark Greenhill is pictured at the site of the old Springwood Civic Centre, which is expected to be rebranded the Blue Mountains Theatre and Community Hub.

Blue Mountains Council is asking for the community to be "part of the decision making process" before looking at rate hikes to maintain or improve services. Mayor Mark Greenhill is pictured at the site of the old Springwood Civic Centre, which is expected to be rebranded the Blue Mountains Theatre and Community Hub.

A snapshot of council's assets and the services it provides.

A snapshot of council's assets and the services it provides.

Mayor Mark Greenhill admits Mountains residents might be "suspicious" about the offer and the deputy mayor Brendan Luchetti says "it may well define our term as councillors", but in a bid to save ailing roads, the environment and keep the libraries, pools and sportsgrounds going, the community is being asked what it is willing to pay for it.

Blue Mountains residents will be given three clear options - maintaining, reducing or increasing council's service levels - but all will cost at least 53 cents a week extra on their rate bill.

And it will mean residents could eventually cop up to a 40 per cent increase (which includes state and other charges) in their rate bills by 2018 to get the council out of a growing financial hole.

The mayor says the 78,000 residents have a clear choice and three options are being presented to them about "resourcing our future", with feedback wanted.

Pamphlets will be delivered during August to every household with a clear outline - the first option will see service levels improved with an average annual rate increase of $113 ($2.18 a week) over the next four years. A resident with a current $1272 annual rate bill would find that rate increased to $1725 by 2018/2019.

This would stop the decline in the city's $1 billion worth of assets and see services improved, better facilities and better planning for emergencies like bushfires.

Two other options are also on offer but they will also cost more. One of those options will see service levels maintained but a jump in costs from the $1272 average to $1623 by 2018 and the other will see service levels reduced with costs rising from $1272 to $1383.

The additional revenue would mean increasing charges above the rate peg increase set by the NSW Independent Pricing and Regulatory Tribunal (IPART).

The first two options include continuing the existing environment levy (due to expire in June 2015), which costs ratepayers about 87 cents per week.

Mayor Greenhill said: "I want to be very clear that I don't support any one option or the many variations that are possible. I and the councillors want to put the facts before the people and ask their views. Council is used to collecting all sorts of charges via our rates notice. If you take out the state government rate peg and levies the true value of the three scenarios over four years are: Option 1 is 23 per cent (increase); Option 2 is 15 per cent; and Option 3 is 0 per cent".

Under the "maintain" option (option two) one fifth of community and recreation facilities would remain in poor condition and "unsafe facilities may need to be removed or closed" said the mayor. Option three which involves reducing services would also lead to closures and deterioration of fire trails, sporting fields, and no water quality monitoring or stormwater pollution control, among other environmental issues.

There are significant jumps in rates for businesses under the first two options - from $3071 average in 2014 to $4164 by 2018/2019 for the option to improve service levels.

So why the extra fees? The mayor said council is caught between a rock and a hard place.

"Despite our best efforts, costs are rising at a greater rate than our income, other levels of government continue to shift costs on to us and have reduced local government funding. Additionally much of our built infrastructure (roads, footpaths, drainage, community and recreation facilities such as pools, parks and libraries) is old and requires significant investment just to maintain, if not improve."

Council reports show 21 per cent of the city's built assets are currently in poor condition and this is expected to increase to 37 per cent over the next decade.

Nationwide councils look after 36 per cent of the nation's infrastructure but only get 3 per cent of the national taxation revenue pie, he said.

"Put simply, the available funding is insufficient to continue current service levels into the future."

Clr Greenhill said it was "worth mentioning that we are doing what the other levels of government are not doing in that we are asking people in advance what they think as opposed to just dropping cuts or increases on them later".

He said "the Financial Assistance Grant cuts that were in the last federal budget was a real straw that broke the camel's back".

At the council meeting to discuss the proposal the mayor told the councillors it might not be popular but "we can't do nothing".

Council reports show 21 per cent of the city's built assets are currently in poor condition and this is expected to increase to 37 per cent over the next decade.

Nationwide councils look after 36 per cent of the nation's infrastructure but only get 3 per cent of the national taxation revenue pie, he said.

"Put simply, the available funding is insufficient to continue current service levels into the future."

Clr Greenhill said it was "worth mentioning that we are doing what the other levels of government are not doing in that we are asking people in advance what they think as opposed to just dropping cuts or increases on them later".

He said "the Financial Assistance Grant cuts that were in the last federal budget was a real straw that broke the camel's back".

At the council meeting to discuss the proposal the mayor told the councillors it might not be popular but "we can't do nothing".

"It's our job to lead the community and to support it, if you thought it was going to be easy you shouldn't have run".

All councillors, except Councillor Robert Stock who wanted more options, voted in favour of presenting the three options to the community.

The resourcing strategy will be on public exhibition from Monday August 4 until Monday September 15. See more at www.bluemountainshaveyoursay.com.au.

The options:

  • Service improve: Option 1 is a 23 per cent rate increase over four years (with state rate peg and levies it jumps to 40.4 per cent).
  • Service maintained: Option 2 is 15 per cent over four years (with state rate peg jumps to 32.1 per cent).
  • ​Service reduced: Option 3 sees no council rise over four years but a 12.6 per cent rate peg as set by IPART.
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