Frankenstein Monster consuming Upper Hunter ratepayers

Image: Fine Art America.
A very well written letter by Peter Bishop of  "Wootton," Scone appeared in the letters to the editor of the Land on Thursday 23 August, 2012.


Nine rural shires in NSW are not holding elections this year because they have either not enough or the bare minimum of candidates.  Life on the land is increasingly hard and fewer farmers can spare the time for local government.  

 I have put my hand up for the Upper Hunter Shire Council.  I served on the Merriwa Shire Council and the Upper Hunter Development Board and given Merriwa is a rural shire, farm land its main source of rates, I thought I knew my way around.  

But 8 years ago Merriwa, Scone and Murrurundi Shires were amalgamated into the Upper Hunter Shire.  Merriwa lost the valuable litter corner that contained Ulan Coalmine but kept all its Council’s staff.  Murrurundi transferred more or less half its land and half its staff to the Northern Council. 

The carrot of economies of scale was dangled by State and Local authorities when promoting this amalgamation.  For example, if three different people were doing the same job in different Shires, then maybe one person could do that job in the amalgamated shire.  The State Government then legislated against the very economies of scale it had promoted, introducing “employment protection” – in local government areas with populations under 5,000 no local government jobs could be lost – indefinitely.   

So now the new Upper Hunter Shire had the same number of staff as the three previous Councils had before (less the Murrurundi transfers), and three sets of council chambers.   

So what did they do next?   

They built a fourth set of Council chambers, the super chambers, in Scone, at a cost of $5,000,000. 

 Of course they did.  But there is more. 

 Rate pegging by the Independent Pricing and Regulatory Tribunal was introduced, holding annual rate rises to a maximum of around 3pc.  This maximum allowable rate rise immediately became the minimum rate rise levied by Councils.  

 Farmland still produces more than half the rates in the general fund of the Upper Hunter Shire - $4.5m out of $8.4m.  Council has increased this by the IPART limit of 3.6% this year while farm incomes are recovering from several years of drought and the high Australian dollar works against farm exports.  The general fund rate pool of $8.4m no longer covers the wages and salaries of Council staff which come to $12.967m.  

 Even with the addition of annual charges, the rate pool only rises to $12.7m.  At a time when dairy farmers are going out backwards, with wool and meat producers not far behind, the Upper Hunter Shire Council has proposed a rate rise of 10pc for the next year – 3 times the IPART limit.   

The Upper Hunter Shire Council is becoming a Frankenstein monster, consuming the very ratepayers it is supposed to serve.  It’s time someone pulled the plug.

h/t Bill Pounder


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