COMMENT

Two councils countering problems with rate relief

DIFFERENT problems, but two Hunter councils are proposing rate cuts to come to the aid of ratepayers.

First off was Newcastle City Council and its plan to help light-rail affected businesses by halving a special levy that sits on top of the main business rate – as long as the property owners passed the savings on to their tenants in terms of reduced rent.

Now, Port Stephens Council is proposing to offer substantial savings on residential rates for those living within the three areas affected by the PFAS chemical contamination controversy. If the policy is adopted, those in the primary zone will have their rates halved. The reduction in the secondary zone will be half that, or 25 per cent, while those in an outer management zone would receive a 10 per cent cut.

Although full details of the Port Stephens plan will not be available until the May 22 agenda is made public, Mayor Ryan Palmer has said the plan is to restructure the ratings base to effectively ring-fence those whose properties are within the overall contamination zone. In order to maintain the council’s finances, the bulk of Port Stephens ratepayers will apparently be asked to foot a small increase in their rates in order to help out those who by any definition are stuck in a real-life slow-moving horror film.

Long-term, they are living with the fear of future health issues from a group of chemicals that are internationally accepted as bio-resistant toxins, even if the federal government’s expert panel says it can find no evidence of PFAS having a “large impact” on human health.

Financially, they are also under the pump. Official land values, as decided by the Valuer General, are down by 15 per cent, but as property owners commented this week, house prices in the zone have fallen by a lot more than that, especially with banks hesitating to lend on these properties while ever uncertainty hangs over the area.

Ideally, it should be the federal government – whether through the Department of Defence or independently of it – that comes to the aid of the contamination zone residents, given that the RAAF was the source of the contamination, and played a major role in delaying any notification to the public. 

But there is little sign of that happening. In the meantime, Cr Palmer’s proposal, if approved, should offer some welcome, if modest assistance, to a population trapped in this utterly unacceptable situation.

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