Hawkesbury Council

Hawkesbury Council Rates 2022

Are you paying too much in Council rates? News from the 2022-2023 Hawkesbury Council Budget

Hawkesbury Council's rating system is broken and unfair. However, there are developments I'd like to share with you.

For context, I've been advocating for reform of our rating system since I was first elected to Council in 2016:

There are many causes for the problem, ranging from distortions in land value caused by our proximity to nearby development, but two key changes introduced by the previous Council had a huge impact.

The last Council, under Mayor Lyons-Buckett and continuing under Mayor Calvert, introduced a 'Special Rate Variation' that drove everyone's rates up by a third, when the relevant rate-cap was (mostly) tracking inflation. It bears remembering that three of the Councillors who voted for that rate-hike were not returned when they stood for re-election in December.

That Council also changed the rating formula that varies the mix between a flat-fee (called a 'base rate') and your land value, moving the base rate from 50% to 30%. This has made distortions between land value and household income more acute. I'm pleased to report I voted against every such rate-hike in the last chamber.

Emphasising land value is a recipe for volatility (since it's the Valuer General who sets land value, not Council) and unfairness when land value becomes unrepresentative of a suburb in a way I'll explain below.

The 'base rate' used to be set at the maximum the legislation allows, at 50%. The last Council reduced it to 30%, making the system less fair.

In calculating your rates, Council should be mindful of the principles in the Council Rating and Revenue Raising Manual, a document put out by the NSW Government through the Office of Local Government. Particularly, the principle articulated by the economist Edwin Cannan a century ago:

But the same document warns Councils that placing too much emphasis on land value in calculating rates is 'at best only an approximation' for:

The new Council elected in December 2021 resolved in January to model changing the 'Base Rate' back to 50%. That's a move that I support. Those figures will be on public exhibition soon and the budget will be adopted to take effect July 1.

The common criticism is that people on acreage properties are rich and can easily afford higher residential rates, but the data reveals a different story.

The Hawkesbury Social Atlas displays a range of statistics about our area, including median weekly income broken down by suburb:

One analysis could be to compare median household income to median rates within the same suburbs to get a sense of fairness.

Weekly income and annual rates are figures with roughly the same magnitude (say $1000-$3000). It's not as though a ratio of one is a magic number – it's arbitrary, but it does allow for a comparison that factors in both rates and the 'ability to pay' principle.

Caveats: Such an analysis is just a guide – comparing the median-this to the median-that doesn't account for those that lay on the outer edges of those bell-curves. I know pensioners on below-median income sitting on land that just happens to be close to development that they loath and want no part of. Go and talk to them about what it's like to be taxed off the farmland that they and their parents grew up on.

Nor does this analysis touch on the other factor mentioned earlier – the relative access to services. Many residents of outlying suburbs live on dirt roads, and are far from the centralised services they are subsidising with their rates, while enduring other disadvantages. Setting rates with blunt tools isn't a science, as much as I wished were otherwise.

But this at least attempts to address the equity issue that is frequently raised by my colleagues in the chamber when they speak openly of 'rich acreage landowners' vs 'poor suburbanites' in built-up suburbs.

Here is what that comparison looks like for some suburbs under the current base rate of 30%:

Here's what that means: Suburbs above a ratio of one are relatively advantaged, meaning that the rates they are charged are low compared to median household income in that suburb. Suburbs below the ratio of one are disadvantaged, meaning that rates are relatively expensive compared to income. In a fair system, one measure of fairness would be our ability to drive rates in suburbs towards the same ratio.

Now, here's what those ratios would look like for the same suburbs under a base rate of 50%:

Those suburbs who are paying not just double the average rates, but double even after factoring in relative income, move towards fairness. And other suburbs move in a modest way towards paying their fair share, and again, even after accounting for income.

If you want the raw figures, without adjustment for income, here is the preliminary modelling on a per-suburb basis for 2022-2023 rates in a range of Hawkesbury suburbs with a range of base-rates. These aren't final but will probably reflect figures which will be put on exhibition soon. Again, the base rate is 30% at the moment, and I'm advocating for it to move back to 50%.

A change to a 50% base rate is not a complete fix. It's cold comfort for residents in Oakville and Maraylya, enduring increased traffic from development and potholed roads being told that instead of paying well more than twice the rates as elsewhere, they'll now be paying only slightly more than twice even accounting for income.

Worse, the pensioner rebate on rates has been stuck at $250 for years and no longer keeps pace with our desire to give older people a hand, and Council has not addressed this in this year's budget. But any move towards fairness is a positive step.

Could we do more? Council can't set the base rate above 50% as that's limited by legislation. IPART released a long-delayed report into Council rating structures

Hawkesbury Council predicts it will take in $44M of rating income over 2022-2023 from 24,615 residences, 625 farms and 1617 businesses.

In 2016-17 that figure was $30.5M over 23,370 residences, 582 farms and 1509 businesses. In other words, Council revenue from rates have risen by 44% when the cumulative inflation rate over the same period was 11.6%

I’d say most Hawkesbury residents are prepared to pay rates that contribute to the common good, but their sense of a fair go is offended when they consider that some suburbs are paying two or three times the amount of rates of other suburbs with comparable income and access to services.

I'll continue to advocate for a fairer go while ever I remain on Council. If you don't already follow me on Facebook, Instagram or YouTube, please consider doing so for updates.

 

 


Saving Council money by trimming Councillor perks

At last night's meeting of Hawkesbury Council I presented a Notice of Motion to review our 'Provision of Facilities to Councillors' policy. The text of my motion is at this link.

When I was elected to Council in September 2016, I was surprised to be given a Windows laptop, a new iPhone with a SIM card, a printer, and a wireless modem & router to facilitate Internet access at home.

I didn't need or want most of these resources. I handed the laptop and iPhone back, and have never used the wireless modem router. Some of my fellow Councillors did the same. Representing the community is a privilege, and I was happy generally to use my own resources for Council business.

Frankly, the current policy is both wasteful and outdated. It refers to installing extra landlines and fax machines in Councillor's houses. It refers to arrangements for receiving a tape (an actual tape!) of Councillor meetings, even though we've been podcasting meetings for years.

I felt that the least we should do is update this policy so that the new Council elected in a few months are asked first what resources they may need – hopefully in the expectation that this will save ratepayers some money.

The motion was passed unanimously, which was very pleasing.

A new policy will be drafted and placed on exhibition for adoption before the elections in September.


Proposed McGraths Hill motel development knockback prompts litigation

Those driving down Windsor Road from Windsor will be familiar with the former but beloved Millers Nursery (a.k.a Windsor Garden Centre) on the left hand side on the corner of McGrath Road at McGraths Hill.

Opened by Ross and Lynette Miller in 1969, and carried on by daughter Bec it was a stalwart local business for 47 years. I remember it as a cosy and personal ramble – a place with nooks, and curios, and proper service. Not at all like the bland 'big box' nurseries that prevail now. Ross was active in Windsor Rotary for many years. Sadly, the business closed and the property sold in July 2016. The site has lain empty and sad ever since.

 

I mention this today because the fate of this site reveals in microcosm two things: The first is how Hawkesbury Council still has a long way to go to be a responsive, efficient public body that meets deadlines and applies our planning codes consistently. The second is how planning laws imposed by the State Government have disconnected the community from knowing much about, or having much say in Development Applications.

In 2017, the NSW Government instituted Planning Panels to determine DA's, removing the decision-making powers of elected Councils across Sydney. Planning Panels consist of unelected appointees who may have subject expertise in planning, but who are not democratically accountable to you, the citizen and voter. I and many other Councillors, including some Liberals were opposed to Planning Panels, and I've spoken at length about them before, including with 2GB's Ray Hadley.

A series of DA's have been lodged for the old nursery site to become a motel development. A pre-lodgement meeting held with Council in February 2018 indicated a desire to build a $10.8 Million, 130 bedroom motel.

DA0235/18 was lodged in May 2018 proposing a 94 room motel.

A decision on this proposal now sat with the Sydney West Planning Panel, with Hawkesbury Council staff writing a report with a recommendation for or against.

Council's report to the Planning Panel did not arrive until September 2019, over a year later. This kind of delay is itself an issue for me. Such determinations should not take so long. In October 2019 that application was knocked back, for a variety of reasons including the ability of the McGraths Hill sewerage treatment plant to cope with the load the development would place on it.

The applicants then came back with a new proposal for an 80 room motel under DA #0130/20, lodged on 13th May 2020.

I suspect not many people, even residents of McGraths Hill, knew much about any of these proposals.

76 days later, on 28/7/2020 the applicant made an application to the Land and Environment Court (case #2020/00226591) to litigate the DA on the basis of an assumed "deemed refusal", which means that the DA was not finalised or determined either way within the prescribed assessment period (which can be either 40 or 60 days).

Recently, on 31/5/2021 the application was withdrawn and a request for a refund of DA fees made, but only because this litigation was, and remains pending. A hearing may not occur until September.

In their letter withdrawing the DA, the applicants offered this stinging commentary to Council:

"It is with disappointment that we note that a lack of transparency from Council in relation to Council’s sewerage capacity issues and a lack of response from Council officers (who are too busy) in relation to the proposed on-site waste water system - which have prevented us assisting to achieve a satisfactory resolution of this development proposal."

I offer no commentary on the merits of the proposal, except to note that all applicants to Council are entitled to prompt and professional service within "best practice" assessment timeframes. If they didn't get it, I'd want to know why.

But my broader point is that, when decisions that shape the character of our neighbourhoods are taken away entirely from your elected Councillors and given to planning panels, the community ends up poorly informed (did you know about this?), and decisions are taken that you can't require anyone to be accountable for, and that's not good enough.


Oakville Oval needs an upgrade

Oakville Oval is one of 23 different playing fields, and one of the 215 parks and reserves around the Hawkesbury.

I've been a user of the oval all my life. I remember attending Oakville Public School sports carnivals there as a boy, kicking about kerosene-soaked fireballs when I was in Oakville Scouts (probably an OH&S nightmare now), and now witness my nephews play there as a soccer uncle.

Given the amount of use by the community, I feel Oakville Oval is looking a little tired and needs some care and investment.

Upkeep and development of our sporting fields is managed by the Hawkesbury Sports Council, who maintain two and five year plans for all local Ovals. In preparing those plans the Sports Council seeks submissions from sporting clubs and users of specific ovals. I was surprised to learn that, at the time the last plan was drawn up, no responses were received from the clubs that use Oakville Oval. I strongly encourage them to make a submission for the next round that will be called for the 2021/2022 financial year, and will be reaching out directly to make that appeal.

Council is aware of the increased use of the oval particularly during winter sports and the increases in parking and traffic. We've all seen the cars spilling on to the road, and the 'car park' is really just an abandoned gravel depot that turns to mud in poor weather.

The Sports Council advise that other suitable ovals in the area are used in conjunction with Oakville Oval wherever possible to spread the sporting community’s needs across the city.

Shipping containers used as storage at Oakville Oval

I've always thought that using shipping containers to store equipment like rollers, goal posts and nets is ugly and less optimal than lock-up colourbond sheds on slabs with roller doors. However, I am informed shipping containers are considered a better alternative due to their sturdiness and they deter vandalism due to their locks and wall thickness. If you have a different view, please let me know.

Currently there is one shelter area at the Oval and some seating available around the canteen building. Due to the high level of use for various sports there isn't much room to install further shade areas without impacting on the current uses. There is also damage from the shade trees occurring to the on-field area in front of the containers as this area gets no sun. I am told that planting of additional trees might only compound this problem.

Hawkesbury Sports Council have planned to upgrade the irrigation system this year due to the field having to be returfed each year due to increasing use by the soccer club. Following the recent floods and damage to other grounds, the Sports Council has voted to place on hold all capital works until such time as the financial effects of the flood is clearer.

The Sports Council assigns its works program across all sports grounds and prioritises these as required. Where grant or other funding opportunities become available Council and the Sports Council will seek funding for upgrades, including the car park area. In addition, Council is currently planning for the development of Fernadell Park in Pitt Town. This development is subject to funding however, once developed, it will provide additional fields that can be used by the local sporting clubs and reduce demand on Oakville Oval.

Council will ultimately prepare a full masterplan for this and other reserves. I will be continuing to call for a long term plan, and sustained funding for improvements, on behalf of the residents and users who gain enjoyment and use of Oakville Oval.

Canteen and amenities at Oakville Oval

 


A big win for Oakville residents

After nearly five years of banging on about the shocking state of our local roads, I was very pleased at Councils meeting of 30/3 to be able to negotiate additional funding to FINALLY SEAL Old Stock Route Road and Brennans Dam Road at Vineyard.

Most of this is new money, and was absolutely not on the table before.

Some additional commentary:

• Unfortunately this does not yet seal the Commercial Road approach.

• The culvert will have some drainage and scour works done, but will remain a single-lane crossing for now.

• I couldn't get the whole package of works through tonight, both because of our inability to complete the whole project within the deadline of the Commonwealth grant (31 Dec 2021), but also because I could not get more than this through the Chamber (for now).

• Further stages to fix Commercial + widen the culvert have been costed (~$450K) and I pledge to return to these ASAP.

• Yes, this road floods. Regularly. However, when natural disasters strike we get 100% coverage from the State Government to restore these roads but only on the basis of a 'no betterment clause', meaning we can't use disaster relief funds to improve a road beyond it's previous state. If however we improve it now, future damage will be covered to this new better standard. Some of the drainage works will help prevent road erosion against future flooding.

THANK YOU to my Hawkesbury Liberal Team Council colleagues and other Councillors who voted for this, especially those who reversed their previous opposition. Not everyone did...


Council Committees and protecting our Heritage

Hawkesbury City Council has no less than 17 different Committees.

They’re a mess – some have been around since Noah. Some have forgotten the reason for their creation. Some took it upon themselves to re-write their own terms of reference. Some are chaired by Councillors, some are not. Some take in members of the broader community as voting members, some not.

Some of the committees do good work, and enrich the decision making processes of Council. Some… not so much. Each committee requires staff resources to prepare agendas, minutes, and convene meetings.

A proposal was advanced at tonight’s Council meeting to restructure our committees for the first time in decades. It was a great idea – it streamlines the number and remit of committees, taking on detailed feedback received by a Council review over the last year.

It ensured that our committee meetings were public and open to public address (they aren’t now). That agendas are pre-published, and that documentation was available in a timely way to Councillors and the public alike.

It promotes the importance of existential threats like floods and bushfires to become the concern of the whole Chamber – not just a subcommittee.

I agreed. Many times I’ve been in a committee meeting and thought 'I wish all my colleagues were hearing this'.

I disagreed on one critical point – the proposal, as it was moved, sought to abolish our Heritage Committee.

Our Heritage Committee, which I’ve been a member of for four years, carries a disproportionate weight for Council. HCC doesn’t employ a full-time Heritage Officer. The members of this committee are a rare and special fraternity of heritage wisdom, including scientists, heritage architects, historians, and planning experts. We’re very fortunate to have them give their knowledge to us around the year, completely gratis. Put it this way – if we had to pay for their advice, we couldn’t afford it. The work this committee does fills a huge gap that would be impossible to fill if the committee was dissolved – and the motion before me sought to do just that. It sought to amalgamate its function into a committee with no community representatives and which shared billing with Waste and Environmental Sustainability – fairly poor bedfellows.

So, when the vote came, and despite my support for committee reform generally, I voted for a deferral so we could talk as a group of 12 about a better outcome that both permits reform, and protects our unique Heritage (and this committee). I expect the matter will come back to Council before Christmas.

Picture: Summer Noon, Hawkesbury River; Arthur Streeton, 1896.

 

Here are the remarks I made to Council when this came up:


New land valuations give little relief for rates in most Hawkesbury suburbs

Residents around the Hawkesbury should be receiving their latest land valuation letters from the Valuer General. I got mine this week.

I'll be making a more detailed analysis when some details crystallise, but since it's already been mentioned on social media, let me get some data out to you.

Every few years, the VG revalues your land. It has nothing to do with the improved value of your property (that is, with your house and other structures), but is used by Council to calculate your rates. This Council voted to turn the knob up on the formula which magnifies swings in land value on your rates. I and my fellow Liberal Councillors opposed that as unfair and this remains our view. I've made several videos and posts about this in the past, if you want a reminder.

https://councillorzamprogno.info/2017/08/27/video-blog-hawkesbury-council-rate-rises-and-the-valuer-general/
https://councillorzamprogno.info/2017/08/10/are-some-hawkesbury-residents-paying-too-much-tax/

For example, speculation caused by development near the NW growth sector caused land values in Oakville and Vineyard to soar in 2017, and the Council rubbed salt in the wound by applying for a staged 31% rate-hike (the SRV) which is still flowing through to you.

Here are three tables from Council's new 2020 analysis of the effect of the new valuation on rates, by suburb.

Hawkesbury Council's preliminary analysis of the effect of the new valuation on 2020 rates.

It shows that land values in Oakville have relaxed -7.26%, the biggest suburb drop in this round. However, given land values spiked 130% in the 2016 Valuation (206% in Vineyard, 66% in Maraylya, and 44% in McGraths Hill), this is little relief.

A slide from a 2016 briefing on the effect of the previous land valuation round from 2014 to 2016.

If this were the only factor, the average Residential rates in Oakville would drop $710p.a in the 2020-2021FY.

BUT, since the latest stage of the SRV is also going to be applied to your next rates bill, most of the gains are eroded.

So, the average rates in Oakville in 2020-21 will be $3598pa, down from $3905 this year, a saving of only $307.

These figures need to be taken with these caveats:
Average figures are only that, and your own situation may differ.
• I've asked Council staff for more granular data including median rates, and I'm still waiting for them.
• These per-suburb figures are not final, as the VG has indicated some variations may occur in areas affected by the fires. This will affect the balance between suburbs and therefore the proportion each of us will pay.

Some people's rates in Oakville and elsewhere doubled (or worse) in 2017, and this new land valuation will give you very little relief. You're right to be angry. The current Council delivered a quadruple-whammy to you by abolishing the Rural-Residential category, increasing land value as an input to the rating formula, spiking everyone's rates by 31%, all at a time of rampant land value property speculation, which appears to be continuing.

I will continue to advocate for a fairer system.


On the plan to build a new Fire Control Headquarters in the Hawkesbury

Recently at our last Council meeting for 2019, Hawkesbury Mayor Barry Calvert moved a Mayoral Minute to seize on the high profile of bushfires in the Hawkesbury.

In it, he advocated for Hawkesbury to build a new purpose-built Fire Control Headquarters, to replace the current facility at Wilberforce.

I know Fire Control well, having volunteered there for some years in my teens and twenties, under the then Fire Control Officer, Bill Rodger. Situated in the old Colo Shire Council chambers building, it was an ageing, awkward and pokey fit even a quarter century ago. Colo Shire Council was founded in 1906 and amalgamated into the Hawkesbury Shire Council in 1981.

At times of emergency, the place just isn't big enough. Temporary structures have to be built outside, necessitating much to-and-fro.

The Mayor's Minute was endorsed, unanimously. However, the way in which it was presented strikes me as worth further comment.

I think most people supporting such a move appreciate the sentiment behind it first, but then expect it to outlay concrete steps that lead to the desired outcome. A new, purpose built facility is a massive expenditure. Ground was broken in September for a new facility on the South West Slopes and that will cost $6.3 Million.

The Mayor's motion contained no financial commitment to either build, or even scope the ideal location and configuration of a new Fire Control Centre -- both pre-requisite in my opinion to the State government signing on for funding.

In other words, Council needs to budget money to build our case. There's little point in "initiating discussions" (as the motion says) to ask for such a significant financial commitment. Wilberforce may not even be the best location for a new facility -- some addressing the meeting nominated a number of alternatives.

This kind of wishlisting, without appreciating proper process or budgetary considerations, has happened before. As if smelling the wind, one Councillor added a clause to the motion to insist that the Wilberforce Brigade (who are co-located with Fire Control) be "fast tracked" to a new facility "within twelve months". In my opinion, this offers false hope, when Council's budget for the year has been locked in.

Michael Scholz, Captain of the Wilberforce Rural Fire Brigade addressed us and described the inadequacy of the current facility. No one disagreed. But the process of building a new fire shed involves forward planning and budgeting, and a lot of consultation. It can't be done by fiat on the spur of the moment. Two fire shed renovations in the Hawkesbury were held up for several years by spurious Native Title claims.

Our RFS locally have and continue to do a heroic job. There's definitely a case for a new Fire Control Centre. However, we have to now take concrete action: to budget, to scope our plan, to make a compelling case, and to commit to co-funding the facility. In my opinion, only then will our State Government take us seriously.


Pitt Town Road upgrades

Back in August 2017 I joined members of the Pitt Town Progress Association, fellow Councillors and staff on a tour of the Pitt Town area to identify a long list of "action items". High on that list were upgrades to Pitt Town Road that were promised as benefits to the Pitt Town development.

These upgrades consist of the Pitt Town Bypass project, which received a $4.7M boost in the most recent State Budget (and which will be an estimated $8.2M for the whole project), and upgrades to other intersections between Pitt Town and McGraths Hill. I hope the Bypass will have shovels in the ground in 2020.

The most important of these other works is the intersection of Pitt Town Road and Saunders Road. Increasing traffic has rendered this intersection dangerous for some time. I know people personally who have had serious accidents there.

It is pleasing to see these works now underway, but many have asked me why it looks so elaborate, and what all the pipes sticking out of the ground are. I am advised that the pipes mark the location of various underground services such as water and gas.

There will now be dedicated turning lanes when coming along Pitt Town Road, in both directions, for traffic turning into Saunders Road, and for traffic turning into Pitt Town Bottoms Road (towards Lynwood).

Here is a one-page graphic of the works proposed, and below that is a more detailed PDF copy of the plans.

 


We don't need another referendum about Council

At the last Council election we also held a referendum on whether our city should be divided into wards. That exercise – really just the thought bubble of one Councillor -- cost us $24,000 and the idea went on to be soundly rejected by the community.

At our Council meeting tonight we were asked to consider if there was any other change we wanted to put to a referendum for the local government elections that are scheduled for September next year. Would we like 13 Councillors instead of 12? A popularly elected Mayor? To revisit the Wards issue?

I took the view that these suggestions wouldn’t improve the quality of democracy in our city. 

Some of our Councillors made a very conspicuous show only a couple of months ago of rejecting a CPI-rise in the fee paid to Councillors -- a virtue-signalling exercise that would save Council a grand total of $7,132p.a. Nevertheless, tonight the same ones took a shine to the idea of holding another referendum that would cost another $24K (or more) to put to voters, and in the case of increasing Councillor numbers, another $80K+ in pay across the 4 years of a Council term.

I confess, I found that a trifle inconsistent.

So I voted for the status quo. I’m happy to report I was in the majority. I suggest that the money we save by not entertaining thought bubbles like this will be better spent on better roads, parks and services.