NSW councils to be given room to move on rates cap

NSW councils will get greater flexibility to increase rates to enable them to address financial hardships caused by drought, bushfires and the Covid-19 pandemic.

Under a proposed amendment to the Local Government Act to go before Parliament next week, councils which have not previously raised annual rates by the maximum allowable percentage under the annual cap set by the Independent Pricing and Regulatory Tribunal will be able to apply those increases in future years.

A council that did not apply previous annual rate pegs of 2.3 per cent and 2.7 per cent respectively could, for example, adopt both increases in addition to the 2.6 per cent set for the 2020-21 financial year.

This would allow the council to hike rates by 7. 8 per cent for 2020-21, once compounding interest is factored in, and providing they have first consulted with community.

NSW and Victoria are the only two jurisdictions where rates are capped.

Local Government NSW President Linda Scott has welcomed the reform, saying “Local Government sustainability is long overdue as councils are squeezed at both ends by rate-capping and cost-shifting”.

In other NSW news, public hearings and panels for the state’s planning system can now be held online after amendments to the Environmental Planning and Assessment regulation 2000.

The amendments have clarified the legal requirements for public hearings and meetings during the pandemic, and are intended to ensure planning bodies (including the Department of Planning Industry, and Environment, the Independent Planning Commission, Sydney district and regional planning panels, and local council planning panels) can continue to operate without delay.

In other news, the NSW Office of Local Government published “Planning and Assessment for Councils during COVID 19 – Frequently Asked Questions” last week, and issued a circular for councils on new integrated planning and reporting requirements.