UPDATED 30 May 2017, 9.42am.
The Town Council is proposing a rate rise for 2017/18 of 1.5%, a minimum increase for residential properties of $19 pa. For commercial properties the minimum increase is $20 pa.
This comes despite what will likely be a healthy surplus at the end of this financial year.
Shouldn’t that mean there’s a case for no rate rise at all? Alice Springs News Online put this to outspoken councillor on financial matters, Cr Eli Melky (at right).
He says the likelihood of a budget surplus was his hard fought argument to keep the rate rise to “the lowest possible level, keeping us just in front of the CPI.”
“I’m pleased everyone came on board with this.”
Cr Jade Kudrenko, who at the last council committees meeting also expressed her concern regarding the size of council’s surplus, says the rise was rigorously debated and the surplus was the reason for it being kept to 1.5%, “the lowest increase in the last six budgets”.
Although the final surplus will be nowhere near April’s year to date figure of $12m, Cr Melky says it will be substantial, as there’s no way before the end of the financial year to spend the budgeted employment costs, and all the materials and labour costs that haven’t been incurred.
The amount will be carried forward into council’s reserves for the coming year but the figure is not reflected in the draft municipal plan, he says. (The exact amount will not be known until the auditors have signed off on council’s accounts, some time after September.)
Cr Kudrenko says that council has had a surplus at the end of each of the last six financial years, allowing the build up of reserves. This strong financial position is necessary to make provision for future expenses such as the eventual relocation of the landfill.
This point was also emphasised at last night’s meeting by Mayor Damien Ryan, who spoke to key aspects of the budget, using a powerpoint presentation, for the benefit of media representatives and the public. Those attending included Braitling MLA Dale Wakefield and Araluen MLA Robyn Lambley.
A new reserve of $162,000 is being established for the replacement of plant and equipment, in addition to a separate amount for future purchases of plant and equipment at the Regional Waste Management Facility (RWMF).
Left: 72% of council’s revenue come from rates and other charges; MLA Dale Wakefield taking note.
A significant reserve of $3.5m has been built up to go towards a future landfill site. Mayor Ryan said council has done “a lot of work to get the longest life we can” out of the current site but eventually a new landfill will be required and council will also be liable for the ongoing management of the present landfill for some 40 years into the future.
“We couldn’t do all this in one year off such a small rates base,” he said.
Some of the future capital infrastructure reserve of $5.7m will be used for the construction of a hazardous waste management facility at the RWMF, for which council has also received a grant of $800,000 from the NT Government.
$2.3m is reserved for redevelopment of the CBD. There was no detail on how this money will be spent but the monthly Mayoral report revealed that he had met during the last month with Uniting Church representatives, described as a presentation on “The Meeting Place”. This is the project that would see the church and council go into partnership in the development of a residential and commercial complex as well as large open space (The Meeting Place) on land behind Flynn Church and taking in part of the council-owned Hartley Street carpark.
Appeals to the NT Government to put money into the project, which would also require a commercial loan, have been previously unsuccessful. However now, as Mayor Ryan said, there are promised funds ($20m) from the NT Government for CBD redevelopment.
Council’s healthy capital infrastructure reserve was defended last night from a proposal by Cr Melky to pay off council’s only debt, which is the loan on the Civic Centre.
The fixed term loan was for $5m at 6.75% interest, due to be paid out by 2019. By then council will have paid just under $3m in interest. Most of that is in the past and can’t be undone, but “we can learn from it”, said Cr Melky. He urged council to pay up in full now (a total of $1.263m), to become debt free and to potentially be able to borrow against their freehold asset.
However, the final figures on such a move, provided by Director of Finance Dinesh Pillay, represented a saving of only $17,000.
Cr Kudrenko said she could not support drawing down on the reserve for such a meagre saving. This argument won the support of the other councillors and Cr Melky’s motion lapsed for want of a seconder.
Pensioner rebates are proposed to increase from $47 to $60.
Fees at Aquatic and Leisure Centre, the Regional Waste Management Facility, and Public Library will not be increased for the coming financial year. The annual waste charge for properties with a regular weekly waste collection service will go up by $5 for the year.
“We understand that the community have begun to feel the impact of tighter economic conditions,” Mayor Damien Ryan says in the release. “Council is focussed on efficiently delivering the services that our community needs.
“The draft budget is one that delivers minimum rate increases, drives confidence in our community, and stimulates our economy.”
$2.3 million is being held in reserve for the redevelopment of the Central Business District, with council welcoming the Northern Territory Government’s commitment to contribute $20 million to the same end.
Council is committing $600,000 to provide lighting at Albrecht Oval, match the NT Government’s commitment.
Council is working with the Commonwealth and NT Governments towards establishing a City Deal, under which significant infrastructure investments will be made in Alice Springs. Through City Deals, governments, industry and communities develop collective plans for growth. This requires commitment to actions, investments, reforms and governance. Council will set aside $854,798 toward a City Deals Project Reserve.
Further capital and maintenance works in the draft 2017/18 budget include:
$2,985,000 toward parks, gardens and ovals
$1,675,000 toward roads and roads maintenance
$609,000 toward footpaths and cycling tracks
$333,000 reserved to fund solar power initiatives for Council facilities
$100,000 toward public toilet refurbishment
$3,074,000 for Regional Waste Management Facility operations
$1,791,000 for Alice Springs Aquatic and Leisure Centre operations
$921,000 towards Alice Springs Public Library operations
$247,000 toward supporting community events
$159,000 to fund the Healthy Communities program
$102,000 supporting tourism initiatives
$89,000 for grants and ongoing community contributions including Araluen Community Access
Grants, Community Development Grants, Community Assistance Grants and Youth Development Grants
$56,000 to continue the Pop Up Gallery initiative
Council welcomes public comment on its draft Municipal Plan for 2017/18, available on council’s website from tomorrow morning, until 19 June.