Solutions for rate dilemma

IT is no longer a matter for debate that many NSW councils are struggling to match their financial resources to the expectations of their communities.

So it's no surprise to learn that Lake Macquarie City Council expects to fall further behind on its maintenance schedule unless it is permitted to raise its rates.

According to the council, if rates remain pegged at levels mandated by the state government, it won't be able to complete more than a third of its maintenance requests by the year 2018-19 .

A council report observes that lack of maintenance means the experiences of many people who use council infrastructure can be "characterised by inconvenience and dissatisfaction".

It also notes that: "inadequately maintained roads, kerb and gutter and drainage structures are inconsistent with a vibrant and growing city".

One suspects some ratepayers in other Hunter local government areas than Lake Macquarie might recognise themselves and their surroundings in those remarks.

The question is, what can be done about this widespread and frustrating situation?

The simplest answer would be for the state government to let councils levy ratepayers for whatever sum they consider will cover the costs they face.

Reluctant to grant such freedom to potentially insatiable local bureaucracies, the government proposed - after its Destination 2036 forum on local government in Dubbo last year - to promote regional groupings of councils in a bid to achieve economies of scale in purchasing, equipment, personnel and service delivery.

From the point of view of non-metropolitan residents of NSW, both options let the government off too lightly.

Regional ratepayers suffer badly at the hands of the state - on both sides of the ledger - when compared to their capital city counterparts.

Punished by iniquitous taxes such as the waste levy, regional ratepayers are also heavily disadvantaged by government spending bias in favour of the capital. All manner of public services are provided for capital city residents from state coffers, while comparable services in regional areas are left for residents to pay for through their rates.

If the government stopped unfairly taxing regional areas to fund metropolitan services and offered regional centres similar support for cultural and other facilities to that provided to the capital, Hunter councils wouldn't feel so pressured.

Coalfields flooding

COALFIELDS communities unhappy at lack of action on flooding problems should take their case to the state government. Siltation of creeks and waterways in some neighbourhoods means water isn't efficiently drained after downpours, causing back-ups that flood homes and properties.

It has been suggested by some residents that authorities might be unwilling to excavate clogged creeks because of a reluctance to disturb residues from long-closed mining operations.

If that's the case then there ought to be funding available from mine-site rehabilitation funds to help rectify the problem.

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