IPART rejects Upper Hunter Shire Council's application for a Special Rate Variation

THE Independent Pricing and Regulatory Tribunal (IPART) have made a final decision to reject Upper Hunter Shire Council’s application for a Special Rate Variation (SRV).

The application, which would have meant a 20 per cent rate increase over three years, was lodged in January with the hope the additional revenue would fund community projects, town revitalisations and road upgrades. 

Upper Hunter Shire Council was one of 13 councils in the state IPART received applications from in 2018-19.

Only two applications were not approved, including Willoughby Council, while nine applications were approved in full.

Two applications, including Muswellbrook Council, were approved for a temporary increase for one year.

A final report was handed down by IPART stating the reasons for the rejection including an “inadequate communication of the full impact of the proposed increase to the community”.

“Upper Hunter and Willoughby did not adequately update their Integrated Planning and Reporting documents,” IPART stated in the report findings.

“We found that Upper Hunter Shire Council did not demonstrate that its community is aware of the need for and extent of the proposed rate increase.”

The report stated that all special variation applications needed to demonstrate the need for the additional revenue, that the council engaged with and made the community aware of the proposed changes, and the council is making productivity improvements.

The impact of the proposed increase on ratepayers was also considered along with submissions from ratepayers, community groups, and other stakeholders.

Overall IPART received 171 submissions from Upper Hunter residents.

Upper Hunter Shire Council General Manager Steve McDonald said council has been liaising with state government agencies to identify and apply for alternative sources of funding.

“Council will also review IPART’s feedback on our SRV application and review our systems in preparation should Council consider applying in the future,” he said.

“A report will be prepared to go to the councillors about our options going forward.”