BATHURST Regional Council's budget for 2022-23 has been locked in, including a 2.5 per cent rise in rates and a late change to councillors' remuneration.
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Councillors used an extraordinary meeting on Wednesday, June 29 to go through the submissions received from the public while the Draft Delivery Program 2022-26 and Operational Plan 2022-23 were on public display.
Though there were few changes made to the 2022-23 budget as a result of the submissions, councillors did decide to allocate $50,000 to a management plan for part of Mount Panorama and $200,000 to bringing the Western Sydney Wanderers to Bathurst for an A-League game.
Discussing what was then the draft budget back in April, director of corporate services and finance Aaron Jones said that, financially, "it has probably been the hardest budget we've had to put together in the entire time I've been here at Bathurst council".
He said the cost of materials for capital projects and general maintenance had "skyrocketed" and, as a result, a number of projects had been forced on to the backburner.
Nonetheless, among the major items, the budget contains $4.25 million for extending the grandstand at Carrington Park.
It also contains $2.3 million for reconstruction works for three fields at Proctor Park, though council anticipates this project will attract grant funds.
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The budget also contains $8.2 million for the city's stormwater harvesting scheme and $6 million for Winburndale Dam flood security upgrading, though a recent judgement in the NSW Supreme Court has led to council questioning Winburndale Dam's long-term water security role.
Council has also allocated $4 million to begin an upgrade of the terminal at the aerodrome.
The draft budget had been prepared with a proposed 2.5 per cent rate increase factored in, which wasn't confirmed by the Independent Pricing and Regulatory Tribunal (IPART) until June.
IPART had initially set a rate peg limit of 0.9 per cent for Bathurst Regional Council for 2022-23, but council applied for, and was granted, a "special rate variation" of 2.5 per cent.
That decision was announced by IPART less than two weeks before the start of the new financial year.
In the Bathurst region, Orange City Council (whose rate peg had been 0.7pc) and Lithgow Council (whose rate peg had also been 0.7pc) were also granted special rate variations of 2.5 per cent.
In Mr Jones' report to councillors at the June 29 extraordinary meeting, the recommendation in regards to councillors' remuneration was that it be "set at the maximum level for the category applicable to Council as published by the Local Government Remuneration Tribunal".
Under Bathurst Regional Council's category (regional centre), the maximum remuneration from July 1, 2022 is $25,310 for councillors and an additional fee of $62,510 for mayors.
That was after the Local Government Remuneration Tribunal had decided on a two per cent increase in councillor and mayor remuneration for the various categories for 2022-23.
At the June 29 extraordinary meeting, deputy mayor Ben Fry spoke in regards to the remuneration recommendation before the councillors, asking that it be changed.
He asked for it to be "the maximum level for the category applicable to council as published by the Local Government Remuneration Tribunal minus the two per cent increase that they've levelled in that tribunal report".
"[I'm] just noting the financial sustainability of council," he said.
"Absolutely, we all do a lot of work as councillors in this chamber and outside of it, but [we] just want to make a symbolic gesture to say that we're not giving ourselves any kind of rise in pay and nor should we.
"I think we should be focused on making our council more sustainable in the future."
That change to the remuneration recommendation was carried.
Council used money from a yet-to-be-received emergency services levy rebate to make three additions to the budget at the June 29 meeting.
Councillors voted to allocate $50,000 in 2022-23 for the start of a management plan for the development of public land on top of Mount Panorama, $50,000 to an Aboriginal cultural facilities study and $200,000 to help fund Bathurst hosting a Western Sydney Wanderers game.
Council general manager David Sherley said $300,000 was consistent with what council had received in the emergency services levy rebate in previous years.
"And we've definitely had written advice that there will be a rebate," he said.
The NSW Government said in a press release in April that it would step in "with an extra $43 million for NSW councils to help cover their contribution towards the state's fire and emergency service costs".
The government said the emergency services levy is paid by insurance companies and councils to help fund emergency services across NSW, but "recent natural disasters have led to an increase in the levy rate, and the NSW Government is funding the councils' share so costs are not passed onto ratepayers".
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