Letters to the editor of the Oberon Review

IN YOUR HANDS: Voters of the Oberon Council area will elect nine councillors this Saturday.
IN YOUR HANDS: Voters of the Oberon Council area will elect nine councillors this Saturday.

As we all well know, our local government elections are this Saturday, September 9 and some people have already cast their vote by either pre-poll or postal voting.

There are many rather fanciful stories going around.

If you have heard or are being told Oberon Council is in financial dire straits, please let me tell you this is completely untrue. Council’s figures are audited, then submitted as required by the rules for local government to the Minister for Local Government and the Office of LGA. Oberon passed all the criteria for The Fit For The Future except scale and capacity.

Oberon Council asked for a special rate variation and has had their request approved by the Oberon community and the Independent Pricing and Regulatory Tribunal to institute their Special Rate Variation for five years. One year has already passed and we are into a second year. Oberon Council, through the insistence of our late mayor John McMahon and Cr Clive McCarthy, reduced the original request from 10 per cent to 7.5pc.

We, as a community, were given several opportunities to attend meetings regarding this special rate variation. We were also issued with a card asking us to return the card to council with our opinion on the three options available. 

Bathurst Regional Council are also aware of the need at times of seeking a special rate variation. If you care to pull up on the internet Bathurst Regional Council’s strategic plan, on page 69 you will discover the following: “a rate (general rate) increase in the order of a minimum 22 per cent may need to be considered. This is an estimate only and needs to be refined on a consideration of a range of funding options as identified by the community through community forum workshops held in November 2012.”

Council needs funds to provide roads, rubbish collection, sewerage and services. We all want services and sadly they do not come cheaply. We have two candidates who say they will reduce rates and provide better services; these two do not go together. Rates provide some of the money council needs and, in turn, services are provided. A reduction in the rates would surely mean less in services, such as hour opening times at the pool or similar for the library. And I know we all whinge about our rates and taxes, but we do want the services provided by these.

I am not comparing Oberon with Bathurst as this would be like comparing apples with oranges, or better yet, apples with marshmallows. The Anti Amalgamation Committee worked hard along with Oberon Council (councillors and staff) to ensure Oberon had an independent (stand-alone) council to look after our future. Make sure when you cast your vote you know what the objectives are and if it is even possible for them to carry out that which they are saying.

I believe two of our 18 candidates have decided to change tack as they go along (which is not unusual), however, how they can actually change a full circle I am not sure. In a letter written to the Western Advocate back in February this year, the main ticket person said that: “The amalgamation of the two councils would provide much greater economies of scale and greater efficiencies, together with the financial strength of Bathurst behind the new amalgamated council.” 

This same fellow also clearly states: “The local government services I use are garbage (Rockley tip), Bathurst Memorial Entertainment Centre, Bathurst Library and Bathurst Art Gallery, which are all Bathurst Regional Council.” Surely it is fair to ask exactly what part he has played in Oberon, or how he could even know what we the people of Oberon want or need. We are part of our community.

Another quote from his letter speaking about forced amalgamations: “The Government needs to stick to its convictions and remember that it is the silent majority who vote for governments to make the right decisions.” I believe that the majority made the decision to fight amalgamation and I hope the majority will make the right decision when they choose their councillors for our stand-alone Oberon Council.

Choose carefully a cohesive council that has the future of Oberon very clearly in their minds and hearts. If you have an issue with council, don’t let it blind you. The council is there for everyone; problems or issues are able to be worked out.

Oberon is my home, your home. We belong here because we do participate actively in our community. We are passionate about Oberon and say this unashamedly.

Marjorie Armstrong

Don’t be lazy

ON Saturday, September 9 we have to vote for a new Oberon Council. There are 18 candidates for nine positions. The ballot paper may appear confusing because it refers to voting for five candidates, but we have nine councillors to elect, therefore everyone needs to consider casting a vote for all 18 candidates.

Please don’t be lazy with your vote. Every vote counts.

The Oberon community went through hell and high water to stop a forced amalgamation with Bathurst. It is important that we make sure we vote for councillors who are now and always have been supporters of Oberon independence!

All roads do not lead to Bathurst!

There is no history of factionalism on Oberon Council and it is essential that the Oberon community keeps council that way. You know who your current councillors are and those who are standing again should be supported. Now that Oberon has overcome the thuggery that was trying to force us into amalgamation with Bathurst we must all ensure that our new council will be united.

Sam Harris

Prompt service

I WRITE to say thanks to Essential Energy and the State Emergency Service. On Sunday afternoon, a gust of wind relocated a garage roof on to the roof of a neighbouring house and then into the front yard, taking out the electricity wires on the way.

A few minutes after a phone call, both organisations arrived. The live wires were made safe and new wiring installed.

The SES made the roofless garage weathertight and then broke up the relocated roof and removed it from the front yard together with broken branches and shrubs.

Liz, Tom, Jill and I would like to express our sincere thanks to both organisations for their very prompt and efficient service provided most cheerfully. At least one person was called from that very important football match.

Our town is fortunate to have such dedicated people.

Barry Stubbs

Help us prosper

I WRITE to remind voters of the Oberon local government area of the importance of the voting process which began with the pre-poll voting.

Our council and community have been through a tough time over the last couple of years while we have been dealing with the amalgamation issues. Now that is behind us, we need to elect a council with the skills, foresight and time to chart a course forward to promote Oberon as an attractive environment in which to reside, visit or run a business.

We live in a competitive world where every town and city in the state is competing for government funding, new enterprises and tourists, all of which help towns to prosper.

Let us give serious thought to whom we are going to elect.

Don Capel

Let’s look at the figures

AS our community has just escaped amalgamation with Bathurst, the Oberon Anti Amalgamation Committee believes it is important to be sure the issue is not raised again. For this reason it is important that our community elects nine councillors who are able to work together in a cohesive and harmonious manner to ensure that Oberon retains its independence and also prospers.

Many misleading statements have been made in the lead-up to this election and many of them relate to council rates, especially rural rates and council finances. In this brief note I will attempt to debunk some of them.

There's been much discussion of the comparison of rates in Oberon and Bathurst. This is not a valid comparison as Bathurst is a large regional city with 60 per cent of its rates being paid by residential ratepayers compared with only 19pc in Oberon (a rural town), whereas in Oberon 54pc of rates are paid for by farmers and graziers (farmland rates) compared to only 8pc in Bathurst, which allows Bathurst to substantially reduce farmland rates compared to Oberon. If Oberon farmland rates are reduced, residential ratepayers would have to make up the shortfall.

A more valid comparison would be to compare Oberon with similar sized rural councils. Similar sized councils are Junee, Narrandera, Temora and Uralla. In this comparison (figures available only for 2014/15), Oberon had a slightly higher residential rate, a much lower farmland rate and a lower business rate.

Those making comparisons with Bathurst rates are obviously unaware of the statement in the Bathurst 2036 community strategy plan (page 69) that in 2012 it was estimated that a general rate increase of a minimum 22pc may be required to maintain the current and future standards of the Bathurst Regional Council. Also, Bathurst is in the process of applying for a special rate variation (SRV), which Oberon has already been granted, which will cause a dramatic rise in both their rural and residential rates.

Land values in Oberon have been reviewed twice in the last two years, where it normally occurs once every four years. As a result, many landowners have discovered that the unimproved capital value of their land has risen substantially and as council rates are based on this so have their rates. Even though Oberon farmland comprises 63pc of the rateable land, it is subsidised to the tune of 53pc by the residential rates.

The valuation was a state government initiative and had nothing to do with council.

The rate rise of 39pc, as claimed, did not include the base rate charged by both councils, with Bathurst base being 72pc higher than Oberon. The levy difference is 19.9pc, not 39pc.

The rates collected for the coming year 2017/18 will be $3.575 million compared to $3.343 million 2016/17.

The increase is made up of the rate peg of 1.5pc and 5.45 SRV. The money generated by the SRV was used to upgrade and improve eight heavily utilised rural freight transport routes.

In 2020, farmland rates in Oberon on a land value of $2.5 million are postulated to be 50pc higher than Bathurst and not the 71pc as claimed. Again, it needs to be noted that Oberon has an SRV while Bathurst does not. However, Bathurst is in the process of applying for one.

Water and sewerage upgrade at an estimated cost of $9.9 million - council has received a grant of $4.95 million from the NSW Government and the remainder has to be found by the council. It is unsure at this time how this will be done. It could eventuate by way of a low interest rate government loan but not by a rate increase.

Although long range financial forecasting proposed by Oberon Council staff showed deficits in 2020 of $306,000 rising to $516,000 in a later period, it is not anticipated that these losses will eventuate. It is anticipated that this expenditure would be covered by grants. If they are not forthcoming then the expenditure will be reviewed, as it has in the past, to bring the budget as close as possible back into line.

Anyone who was remotely involved in the anti-amalgamation saga would know that Oberon satisfied all the financial criteria and was only failed on the nebulous scale and capacity item. The claim that Oberon is not sustainable does not stand scrutiny.

Don't be fooled by political doublespeak. Think carefully before you vote.

Brian Dellow