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                    [post_content] =>  

Hands holding begging bowl.
  The Independent Pricing and Regulatory Tribunal (IPART) has told NSW local councils to further rein in their spending by forbidding them from increasing their rates by more than 1.5 per cent next year, citing low inflation and minimal growth in costs. The rate peg has fallen continuously for NSW councils. Last year’s cap was 1.8 per cent. In 2003 the cap was 3.4 per cent. The cap is set by examining the price changes for goods, materials and labour that councils typically use over the past year, called the Local Government Cost Index. It is similar to the Consumer Price Index for households.  The measure spells further financial pain for the state’s councils, which have laboured under ratecapping since 1978 and put up with a growing infrastructure backlog and cost shifting from other levels of government, leaving them struggling to contain costs while keeping services running. IPART Chair Peter Boxall said the figure was fair given low inflation and slow wage growth. “Ratepayers would benefit from the modest rate of public sector wages growth in recent years, as well as the continuing low inflationary environment. This has seen the cost of some items used by councils fall, including fuel, gas and telecommunication services," Mr Boxall said.  But Local Government NSW President Keith Rhoades said that the rate peg was a “financial noose which continued to tighten” around councils. "In the five years to 2014/15, it averaged 2.9 per cent per annum - yet the cap for 2017/18 is half that,” Mr Rhoades said. "That means every year councils slip further and further behind," he said.  He vehemently disagreed with Mr Boxall’s conclusions, especially where wages were concerned. "IPART has come to the 1.5 per cent figure despite an increase of 2.3 per cent in employee benefits and on-costs and an increase of 2.7 per cent in non-residential building construction costs, saying those price rises were partly offset by decreases in gas and fuel prices. "But that just fails to recognise the ongoing squeeze on councils that comes from the combination of rate-pegging and cost-shifting, and deteriorating infrastructure.” Councils that wish to set rates above the rate peg must apply for a one-off special rate variation, which many councils use to fund a particular projects, such as a new aquatic centre. This is not a straightforward process. Councils must consult their communities and prove that any increase over the cap is justified, as well as show evidence of long-term financial planning and productivity improvements. But the 19 new NSW councils created in May 2016 will not be able to apply for a special rate variation. These councils have already been told by NSW Premier Mike Baird that they will not be able to increase their rates beyond the normal trajectory for each of the old council areas for four years. Mr Rhoades said the measly rate peg was not good news for any of NSW's local councils. "The reality is that rates have not kept pace with the cost of services and infrastructure that local government is expected to deliver,” he said. "The whole system is set up to make councils look inefficient and financially profligate, when the opposite is true." [post_title] => IPART reduces rate peg again: NSW councils told to tighten their belts [post_excerpt] => Merged councils hamstrung. [post_status] => publish [comment_status] => open [ping_status] => open [post_password] => [post_name] => 25687 [to_ping] => [pinged] => [post_modified] => 2016-12-02 10:24:49 [post_modified_gmt] => 2016-12-01 23:24:49 [post_content_filtered] => [post_parent] => 0 [guid] => https://www.governmentnews.com.au/?p=25687 [menu_order] => 0 [post_type] => post [post_mime_type] => [comment_count] => 0 [filter] => raw ) [1] => WP_Post Object ( [ID] => 24827 [post_author] => 659 [post_date] => 2016-08-29 16:38:26 [post_date_gmt] => 2016-08-29 06:38:26 [post_content] => Pegs on a washing line     The peak body for NSW local councils has welcomed the Independent Pricing and Regulatory Tribunal’s (IPART) draft report on council rates but says the Tribunal is “fiddling around the edge” by leaving ratepegging untouched. IPART released the draft report, Review of the Local Government Rating System, last week putting forward a number of suggestions on how to rejig the state’s council rates. These included letting councils set rates based on the capital improved value (CIV) of land, rather than its unimproved value (UV), reducing the number of rate exemptions and setting rates based on land use, not ownership. Other recommendations including allowing councils to set different rates for different parts of their local government area, scrapping some pensioner concessions and deferring rates and introducing new rates categories, including some for environmental and vacant land, business and farmland. Local Government NSW President Keith Rhoades said he was encouraged by the recommendations, particularly those around lifting rate exemptions for commercial and profit-making enterprises on what was currently categorised as unrateable land. Rhoades said that another bright spot for councils was the ability to base council rates on the improved value of land, redressing the situation where unit and apartment owners paid relatively lower rates than housing owners. “This flexibility has the potential to make it easier for councils to be more responsive to the service and infrastructure needs of residents and ratepayers, particularly as we look ahead to a significant increase in the density of many metropolitan areas,” Rhoades said. But nowhere in the recommendations is there any mention of dumping the hated ratepegging regime, a system which has placed an annual cap on NSW local council’s rates since 1979 and forced councils to grovel for a special rates variations when they wish to exceed the cap. Rhoades said: “I commend IPART for seeking to address the very real revenue issues facing local government, but it is unfortunate that the terms of reference under which they are operating only allows the Tribunal to make recommendations which fiddle around the edges of the problem. “IPART Chair Dr Peter Boxall has made it clear that the draft recommendations are more about spreading the rate burden more equitably among ratepayers, rather than increasing the revenue councils need to deliver the infrastructure and services demanded by their communities. “This does not address the core issue facing councils, which is how to fund the services and infrastructure communities’ demand while being squeezed at both ends by rising costs and capped revenue.” Ratepegging is always a hot topic at every local government gathering, the recent LGNSW Finance Summit being no exception. Councils once again raised the system as being a significant revenue problem and called for it to be abandoned. The NSW Local Government Independent Review Panel identified ratepegging as problematic in their 2013 Revitalising Local Government Report. The Panel found that ratepegging in NSW had “significant unintended consequences” for the state’s local councils, which included setting up unrealistic expectations that rates should be contained indefinitely, despite rising expenditure; deep spending cuts leading to a mounting infrastructure backlog and councils being reluctant to apply for SRVs, even when necessary. “The Panel’s conclusion is that, whilst there is certainly a case for improving efficiency and keeping rate increases to affordable levels, the rate-pegging system in its present form impacts adversely on sound financial management,” said the report. “It creates unwarranted political difficulties for councils that really can and should raise rates above the peg to meet genuine expenditure needs and ensure their long-term sustainability.” The panel instead suggested taking a lighter regulatory approach and giving councils the flexibility to raise rates up to 5 per cent above the cap, provided there was consultation with the public and a strong case was made. The draft report, which was released for feedback from councils and other stakeholders, will not be finalised until December.  The deadline for feedback is October 14. [post_title] => IPART "fiddling around the edge” with NSW local council rates [post_excerpt] => Ratepegging here to stay. [post_status] => publish [comment_status] => open [ping_status] => open [post_password] => [post_name] => ipart-fiddling-around-edge-nsw-local-council-rates [to_ping] => [pinged] => [post_modified] => 2016-08-30 10:45:20 [post_modified_gmt] => 2016-08-30 00:45:20 [post_content_filtered] => [post_parent] => 0 [guid] => https://www.governmentnews.com.au/?p=24827 [menu_order] => 0 [post_type] => post [post_mime_type] => [comment_count] => 0 [filter] => raw ) [2] => WP_Post Object ( [ID] => 24757 [post_author] => 659 [post_date] => 2016-08-22 12:59:17 [post_date_gmt] => 2016-08-22 02:59:17 [post_content] => [caption id="attachment_24763" align="alignnone" width="320"]Sydney, Australia - April 11, 2015: Various residential properties developed as part of Central Park Sydney at dusk. From left to right: One Central Park (which also encompasses a mall), Park Lane and The Mark. Perks over? Central Park, Sydney.[/caption]   NSW apartment owners should pay higher council rates, pensioners should pay back rates concessions and there should be fewer exemptions, the Independent Pricing and Regulatory Tribunal (IPART) has said. The Tribunal’s draft review of the NSW local government rating system out today (Monday) makes some key recommendations that are likely to give the state’s local councils something to smile about. IPART has said that the review aims to make rates collection fairer and more efficient, keep services consistent and to make councils more sustainable long term and has insisted that it is not an attempt to increase the overall amount collected through local government rates. Another objective is to reduce council’s reliance on special rates variations, where they must apply to the Tribunal if they wish to set rates above the agreed rates cap. The review examines how rates are calculated, what exemptions are allowed and the rating categories used. Here are the main points of the draft review’s recommendations:
  • Give councils the choice to set the variable component of rates based on the capital improved value (CIV) of land, not its unimproved value (UV). This means apartment owners are likely to pay higher rates where there is usually a high capital value relative to land value
  • Change rate exemptions so they are based on land use, not ownership
  • Dump some rate exemptions where land is used for commercial or residential purposes
  • Replace current pensioner concession scheme with a NSW government-funded rate deferral scheme
  • New rating categories if councils want them, including environmental and vacant land, business and farmland
  • Let councils set different rates for different parts of a local government area, to reflect access and demand for services and the cost of providing them
  • New councils (under mergers) to continue existing rates or set different rates for pre-merger areas once the four-year rate path freeze is over
The NSW ratings system is central to the health of the state’s councils, who have long complained that ratecapping, in place since 1978, combined with cost-shifting and the freezing of Financial Assistance Grants, have eroded their financial health and their ability to maintain and replace vital infrastructure. Rates have been and will remain a critical battleground, with councils saying that too many organisations are claiming rate exemptions, apartment owners are living the high life at their expense and that they are stuck covering rate concessions from people on low incomes. But the idea of replacing pensioners’ rates concessions with a deferral scheme is liable to stir up a hornet’s nest of resentment among seniors and organisations representing them. The IPART proposal is to allow eligible pensioners to defer their rates payment up to the current level of concession (or another amount set by the state government) and instead pay it back when their property is sold and a surviving spouse no longer lives there. The amount would be charged interest at the state government’s 10-year borrowing rate plus an administrative fee. Submissions on the draft report can be made until October 14. There are also public hearings on September 19 in Sydney and October 10 in Dubbo. The final report is expected by December. [post_title] => Prepare for massive NSW council rates shake up, says IPART [post_excerpt] => Apartment owners likely to pay more. [post_status] => publish [comment_status] => open [ping_status] => open [post_password] => [post_name] => get-ready-massive-nsw-rates-shake-says-ipart [to_ping] => [pinged] => [post_modified] => 2016-08-23 10:42:01 [post_modified_gmt] => 2016-08-23 00:42:01 [post_content_filtered] => [post_parent] => 0 [guid] => https://www.governmentnews.com.au/?p=24757 [menu_order] => 0 [post_type] => post [post_mime_type] => [comment_count] => 0 [filter] => raw ) [3] => WP_Post Object ( [ID] => 23900 [post_author] => 671 [post_date] => 2016-05-19 16:09:32 [post_date_gmt] => 2016-05-19 06:09:32 [post_content] => [caption id="attachment_23901" align="alignnone" width="300"]Supply_-_Sydney_Harbour_Ferry_opt Sunday $2.50 all day fares stay.  pic: JJ Harrison[/caption]   Commuters in New South Wales lured onto public transport by the offer of fare free journeys after they make just 8 trips will now have their freebies torn-up after the state government back-flipped on the generous Opal Card giveaway scheme to try and claw back some of $150 million a year in free taps it’s chalked-up. The controversial reversal comes as millions of Sydney commuters – more and more of whom are turning to public transit to beat worsening traffic jams – have increasingly figured out how they can minimise their weekly public transport bill by clocking lots of cheap, short trips to trigger the free travel threshold. But is it a cheeky bait-and-switch  ... or a necessary cost recovery measure? In a move that was never going to be popular, State Transport Minister Andrew Constance has attempted to temper commuter anger over the blatant cash grab this week by announcing that a new 50 per cent discount will now apply after 8 journeys instead of the fare free component, a measure he said “strikes a balance to allow a more sustainable system.” For commuters riding high on Opal freebies it's a 50 per cent price hike; for the government it's reducing a sugar coated subsidy it clearly thinks could get out of control. Either way, the free ride incentive is a victim of its own success. “Around 70 per cent of customers are not reaching the [fare free] reward, meaning a majority of customers aren’t receiving any benefit,” Mr Constance said. But the fact that 30 per cent of commuters were already travelling part fare free – a proportion that realistically would only grow over time – is certain to have triggered accounting alarm bells at both Transport and Treasury and fuelled fears the revenue expense would quickly snowball into a major financial blowout. The public’s sudden sharp withdrawal symptoms from free trips have not been helped by the Baird and O’Farrell governments having repeatedly trumpeted the ‘free after 8 trips’ component as a major benefit of switching from paper to smartcard ticketing – a success it has repeatedly banged over the head of the Labor Opposition which presided over a decade-long debacle trying to roll out Tcard which which burned through almost $1 billion and delivered nothing but litigation. In public transport, managing public expectations is an essential survival skill. Mr Constance has now assumed the role ‘good cop’ while the government’s in-house efficiency wonks and economic hard heads, the Independent and Pricing and Regulatory Tribunal (IPART) get saddled playing grinch. IPART hasn't done itself many PR favours recently. The decision to end the Opal freebies closely followed the delivery of a stinging report from the controversial adjudicator that warned public transport prices in NSW were simply too cheap. It may not have been able to factor in the commuting public's bad memories of persistently late, sweaty, overcrowded and erratic public transport in over the past decade that prompted previous governments to throw candy to an angry public in the form of discounts and concessions. Those sweetners are now in the crosshairs. Specifically, IPART has urged the State Government to heavily prune popular concessions and discounts , including hiking the Gold Opal card holder fare for retirees from $2.50 to $3.60 per day, a move that instantly enraged influential pensioner groups. The price regulator also recommended that base fares be increased by 4.2 per cent annually and the weekday cap raised from $15 to $18, an idea that Mr Constance greeted with a more palatable cap price freeze until 2017. IPART also called for the scrapping of the $2.50 all day Sunday cap and its replacement with an overall weekend cap that started at $7.20 in 2016-17 rising to $8.00 in 2018-19. While Mr Constance also swiftly rejected those electorally toxic proposals, IPART’s apparent fixation with pricing perfection on what remains a highly challenged and historically neglected transport network is understood to have been greeted with exasperation in some parts of the NSW Coalition. One element of IPART’s report known to have made politicians wince is the observation that the heavily discounted Sunday $2.50 fare was actively eroding Saturday public transport patronage. One issue is that scenario doesn’t take into account the large amounts of remedial rail trackwork now being performed over weekends that forces people onto much slower busses and into cars. The so-called ‘trackwork effect’ is also being blamed for increased road traffic densities on Saturdays to weekday peak levels, or worse, making commuting slow and frustrating at best. People choosing to enjoy ferries, one of Sydney’s more languid transport modes, on Sundays also copped a serve in the IPART report. “The current $2.50 Sunday cap appears to have stimulated substantial additional public transport use on Sundays, particularly on ferries,” the IPART report said, before warning that “for the Manly, Parramatta River and Taronga Zoo routes, the 2015 Sunday peak also exceeded the 2011 weekday peaks.” More people going to the zoo on ferry on a Sunday than during the working week. Who could have predicted pricing signals could produce such a systemic distortion? [post_title] => Is cutting Opal free trips a public transport bait and switch? [post_excerpt] => Incredible shrinking farebox. 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fist_opt

Even marches, petitions, public meetings and Alan Jones in full flood could not stop nineteen new NSW councils being created, and run by administrators, until local government elections in September next year. NSW Governor David Hurley proclaimed the new councils yesterday as 45 councils became 19. [See full list at the end of this article]. Premier Mike Baird called it “the most comprehensive local government reform in more than 100 years” while others called it a betrayal of local government and their communities. “We are ensuring our communities have stronger and more efficient councils, which will free up money for important projects such as local roads, parks, playgrounds and footpaths,” Mr Baird said. “Our plan to create stronger new councils in Sydney and regional NSW will be supported by NSW Government investment of about $500 million." Merging councils have been promised $10 million each towards the cost of merging and $15 million to invest in community infrastructure through the Stronger Communities Fund. The statistics Twenty three councils received a stay of execution because their nine merger proposals are still the subject of legal challenges but Local Government Minister Paul Toole has said he backs these mergers ‘in principle’ and wants them to go ahead. Those on death row include Woollahra, Mosman, Botany Bay and Ku-ring-gai, councils which remain adamant they will not be merged. Three mergers proposals were late bids by councils who submitted alternative merger proposals and the verdict is not yet known. Fourteen mergers were dropped by the government. Who will run councils? Councillors and mayors have been sacked wholesale but thrown the consolation prize of being invited to join advisory groups and local representative committees. Mr Toole backed away from dispensing of general managers after receiving advice that it would prove too costly to buy out their contracts. Instead, an interim GM will be chosen in each new council and the remaining general manager will stay on board until the 2017 local council elections. Local Government NSW President Keith Rhoades said the whole sector felt betrayed by the state government’s decision. "If it wasn't for a range of vehement campaigns by grassroots communities and the local government sector, the Baird Government would have bulldozed through an even more extensive and undemocratic reform process long ago,” Mr Rhoades said. "The process itself has been one long litany of mistakes and miscalculations and dubious dealings by the Government, and it's telling that both IPART and now the Boundaries Commission have felt compelled to disassociate themselves from the political decisions being made," he said. But Mr Toole disagreed: “Many people have taken the opportunity to have their say during the consultation process, by speaking at inquiries or making written submissions. The NSW Government has listened to community concerns and created new wards that reflect the identity of existing communities,” he said. He said services would operate as normal in new council areas and planning protections would remain in place with existing Local Environmental Plans enforced under the new councils. Impact on the federal election Mr Baird has backpedalled on a number of politically controversial mergers, especially those that appear to be in marginal Coalition federal seats, such as the wildly unpopular merger between Kiama and Shoalhaven in the federal seat of Gilmore or the merger between Tamworth and Walcha, where Deputy Prime Minister Barnaby Joyce is beating back a challenge from Independent Tony Windsor to keep his seat. But a late proposal to merge Walcha with Armidale-Duresq, Guyra and Uralla looks set to proceed – the delegate’s report recommended it should – but the government has said the decision is “pending”, presumably until after the July 2 federal election. Meanwhile, talkback host Alan Jones accused Mr Baird of sabotaging Prime Minister Malcolm Turnbull's chances on the hustings. Opposition Leader Luke Foley has promised to give people the oportunity to de-amalgamate their councils, if he is elected in 2019. Mr Rhoades said: "You can't pretend it's not inherently political when the only councils to escape amalgamation are those that happen to fall into marginal federal electorates in the middle of an election campaign." "It's now a matter for voters, many of whom may well choose to express their anger and sense of betrayal at the ballot box at the first opportunity," he said. Labor accuses Baird of imposing dictatorship by boundary rigging and gerrymandering NSW Opposition Leader Luke Foley immediately attacked the forced mergers, directly accused Mr Baird of forming new councils based on political motivations rather than what communities wanted, with boundaries drawn-up along partisan lines. He told ABC 702 that mergers in Sydney were based on diluting Labor voter influence and concentrating the Coalition’s base. “This is just a gerrymander for the Liberal Party’s electoral interest, it’s boundary rigging plain and simple,” Mr Foley said. “It’s a travesty of democracy." Mr Foley specifically called out the case of Kogarah, Hurstville and Rockdale that could have formed a “genuine” St George council. “Instead they bring only two together, Kogarah-Hurstville [and] keep Rockdale out. Why? Too many Labor voters,” he said. “Put Rockdale with Botany … they are only separated by Botany Bay and an international airport. What’s the community of interest?” Mr Foley said. He said elected representatives had been sacked by the stroke of a pen and replaced by hand-picked appointees. Mr Foley said administrators had been given “dictatorial powers” and said the appointees were not accountable to ratepayers. The Opposition leader then recycled former Queensland Premier Campbell Newman’s position, saying that if elected he will let communities decide their own fates and allow referenda to de-merge councils. “I’m not opposed to mergers," Mr Foley said. “I’m opposed to the breathtaking lack of democracy where elected representatives are sacked and replaced by hand-picked unelected administrators with dictatorial powers.” More to follow

Mergers proceeding immediately

Armidale, Dumaresq, and Guyra councils to become Armidale Regional Council Bankstown and Canterbury councils become Canterbury-Bankstown Council Gosford and Wyong councils become Central Coast Council Parramatta and part of Hills, Auburn, Holroyd and Hornsby councils become City of Parramatta Council Auburn and Holroyd councils become Cumberland Council Conargo and Deniliquin councils become Edward River Council Corowa and Urana councils become Federation Council Hurstville and Kogarah councils Georges River Council Cootamundra and Gundagai councils become Gundagai Council Bombala, Cooma Monaro and Snowy River councils become Snowy Monaro Regional Council Boorowa, Harden and Young councils become Hilltops Council Ashfield, Leichhardt and Marrickville councils become Inner West Council Gloucester, Great Lakes and Greater Taree councils become Mid-Coast Council Murray and Wakool councils become Murray River Council Jerilderie and Murrumbidgee councils become Murrumbidgee Council Manly, Pittwater and Warringah councils become Northern Beaches Council Queanbeyan and Palerang councils become Queanbeyan-Palerang Regional Council Tumut and Tumbarumba councils become Snowy Valleys Council Dubbo and Wellington councils become Western Plains Regional Council  

 Mergers still supported by the Baird Government but held up in court

Botany and Rockdale Randwick, Waverly and Woollahra Bathurst and Oberon Ku-ring-gai and Hornsby Mosman, North Sydney and Willoughby Blayney, Cabonne and Orange Hunters Hill, Lane Cove and Ryde Burwood, Canada Bay and Strathfield Shellharbour and Wollongong  

Merger Proposals still pending (kicked into touch)

Newcastle and Port Stephens Dungog and Maitland Armidale-Dumaresq, Guyra, Walcha and Uralla [post_title] => Baird crushes NSW council mergers resistance with iron fist [post_excerpt] => Nineteen new councils, more to follow. [post_status] => publish [comment_status] => open [ping_status] => open [post_password] => [post_name] => baird-crushes-nsw-council-merger-resistance-iron-fist [to_ping] => [pinged] => [post_modified] => 2016-05-17 17:06:34 [post_modified_gmt] => 2016-05-17 07:06:34 [post_content_filtered] => [post_parent] => 0 [guid] => https://www.governmentnews.com.au/?p=23859 [menu_order] => 0 [post_type] => post [post_mime_type] => [comment_count] => 2 [filter] => raw ) [5] => WP_Post Object ( [ID] => 23848 [post_author] => 659 [post_date] => 2016-05-11 15:30:43 [post_date_gmt] => 2016-05-11 05:30:43 [post_content] => [caption id="attachment_23850" align="alignnone" width="350"]Light Rail2_opt Light rail at Glebe station this week.[/caption]   It's time to wave goodbye to your free Opal trips, says the Independent Pricing and Regulatory Tribunal (IPART). The state’s hard-nosed price regulator released a report yesterday (Tuesday) recommending that commuters should no longer get free travel after notching up eight journeys in a week but instead pay half-price for any extra journeys taken. Also on the cards is a push to raise the daily cap on the Gold Opal card $2.50 to $3.60, which would affect seniors and concession card holders, but IPART backed away from an earlier recommendation to means-test access to the card for seniors. Commuters could also take a hit if the government agrees with IPART’s suggestion to increase the cap on adult Opal fares from $15 to $18 for travelling Monday to Friday with a daily cap of $7.20 at the weekend. On the positive side, people changing between different forms of transport, such as switching from light rail to bus, would receive a $2 rebate, to offset paying twice. People travelling on off-peak trains would also pay less. IPART Chief Dr Peter Boxall said despite public transport operating costs being forecast to fall by around 5 per cent  over the next three years, overall costs were continuing to rise as services were improved and expanded through projects such as the CBD and South-East light rail extension and the Sydney Metro. “Right now, the efficient cost of providing the rail, bus, ferry and light rail services in Sydney and surrounding areas is around $4.8 billion a year,” Dr Boxall said. “While operating costs per trip are reducing overall, total efficient costs will rise to around $5.6 billion a year by 2018-19.” “Some fare increases are needed to ensure the additional costs are not borne entirely by taxpayers, but also by those who use public transport the most. This determination means that fares will continue to cover around 25 per cent of efficient costs, with taxpayers funding the remaining 75 per cent. reflecting the benefits public transport provides to the whole community such as reduced congestion and cleaner air.” The state government has not yet decided whether it will implement the IPART’s suggestions. If it does, it will face a backlash from commuters, seniors and concession card holders. The clampdown on free journeys could be viewed as a Trojan horse for scrapping the free/half-price rides completely, something that IPART initially backed. The cap increases and withdrawal of free journeys could prove to be the price signals that tip commuter behaviour. Combined with what appears to be a service increasingly under pressure, people could begin to desert public transport and the costs of encouraging people back onto the roads need to be taken into account, before the government decides on the proposed changes. Light rail trains at peak time are now as crowded as the London Underground in its worse moments, with some passengers unable to board trains and those inside jammed in and miserable. Even trains at off-peak times (outside the hours of 8am to 9am and 4pm to 6pm) are often uncomfortably full. Light Rail 1_opt Transport NSW put on “up to 90 additional services” from January 25 this year, with services arriving every eight minutes, rather than every 10 during peak times from Monday to Friday but the light rail appears to have become a casualty of its own success. Transport NSW was contacted for comment.   The state government will decide whether or not to implement the proposals by the Independent Pricing and Regulatory Tribunal in the coming weeks. [post_title] => Baird told to scrap Opal public transport freebies [post_excerpt] => Commuters could desert crowded light rail. [post_status] => publish [comment_status] => open [ping_status] => open [post_password] => [post_name] => no-thing-free-ride-opal-lost-sheen [to_ping] => [pinged] => [post_modified] => 2016-05-13 11:16:08 [post_modified_gmt] => 2016-05-13 01:16:08 [post_content_filtered] => [post_parent] => 0 [guid] => https://www.governmentnews.com.au/?p=23848 [menu_order] => 0 [post_type] => post [post_mime_type] => [comment_count] => 0 [filter] => raw ) [6] => WP_Post Object ( [ID] => 23719 [post_author] => 659 [post_date] => 2016-04-26 18:39:15 [post_date_gmt] => 2016-04-26 08:39:15 [post_content] => [caption id="attachment_23722" align="alignnone" width="585"]Bomb2_opt Pic: Defusable Alarm Clock by Nootropic Design.[/caption]   A four-year freeze on rates for newly merged NSW councils is a ticking time bomb, says the state’s local government peak body. Independent Pricing and Regulatory Tribunal (IPART) held a public forum today (Tuesday) to thrash out possible changes to how rates are calculated, including examining how NSW Premier Mike Baird can impose the extended freeze on amalgamating councils’ rates and whether  councils should be able to apply for a special rate rise during this time. Read more about the inquiry here. Mr Baird has said he wants merging councils to stick to a rating trajectory as if they had not merged and he is under pressure to keep his promise that rates will not rise – and may even fall – under new mega councils. Shaun McBride, Senior Strategy Manager at Local Government NSW (LGNSW), called it “bad policy” and said: “Apart from freezing [rates], you almost set a time bomb for the end of year four”, when he said ratepayers could be hit with sudden rate hikes. “This policy is going to mean harmonisation doesn’t really commence until year four, when I think you should be completing the rate structure harmonisation by the end of year four,” he said. “We can foresee all types of problems with this.” Mr McBride said the rates freeze conflicted with the stated main aim of the Fit for the Future program, which was to make councils financially stable. “It will create and perpetuate division in the community between councils with higher or lower rate structures and prolong the process. “At the end of the four-year period councils might go for a one-off increase in special rate variations and the difference between high rating [councils] and low rating has probably grown in that period.” LGNSW President Keith Rhoades said the terms of reference for the inquiry directed IPART to recommend the best way to freeze rate paths for four years. "It's understandable that the State Government wants to be seen as the good guys in this exercise - but the reality is that a four-year rate path freeze for amalgamating councils will only exacerbate the very real problems the review is supposed to help fix,” Mr Rhoades said. "We're undermining the chance of a comprehensive solution before we start." "It's easy to label councils greedy or lazy in a three-second sound-bite, but that sort of superficial approach achieves nothing," he said. "It certainly doesn't deliver the outcome we all want, which is a financially sustainable local government system able to deliver the right level of services to residents and ratepayers.” Rates are one of the many complicated issues that merging councils need to address. There may be large differences in rates and service levels between merging councils, as well as differences in fees and charges, such as parking fines. The aim is to equalise these elements over the years under the new, larger councils but it is up for debate how gradually this should be done and when the transition should begin. LGNSW has argued the last three decades of ratepegging, combined with freezing the indexation of Financial Assistance Grants and higher levels of cost-shifting from state and federal government onto local councils has caused a hefty infrastructure backlog and misery for local councils. The organisation backs a proposal allowing merging councils to apply for special rate variations under a broad range of circumstances, including to finance new infrastructure or to renew existing infrastructure. Other subjects for discussion during the IPART review include changing the method used to calculate rates. One suggestion is to base them on the Capital Improved Value (CIV) of land – more easily understood by the public as the market value - rather than the Unimproved Land Value. NSW Valuer General Simon Gilkes said that developing a database capable of capturing this information – would cost “tens of millions”, although this could obviously be balanced by any increases in revenue if the system was introduced. Victoria, which bases its rates on the CIV, has had a database capturing property improvements since the 1960s. “We need to capture a lot of data to move to a new capital improvement value system. It’s complex and expensive,” Mr Gilkes said. It is a switch that many local councils support, particularly those in high density areas, as it would push apartment owners to pay higher rates, although it could also discourage people from doing renovations. There was also heated debate over whether the raft of organisations entitled to rate exemptions should change, this includes schools, hospitals, churches and charities. Local government is also pushing the state to fully fund rate rebates given to pensioners, which is currently a 50:50 deal in NSW but fully funded in other states, such as South Australia and WA. The General Manager of Tumut Shire Council, Bob Stewart, said 62 per cent of his council’s area was unrateable as it contained thousands of kilometres of state forest, national parks and dams. Mr Stewart said that some commercial companies were exempt from rates, despite turning a profit and using council-provided services. Mr McBride said some rating exemptions were a hangover from the late 1800s and they were overdue for a rethink. LGNSW backs partials or scaled exemptions or rate rebates to “better target exemptions” instead of the current system. Submissions to the IPART rates review close on May 13 and an interim report expected to land on NSW Local Government Minister Paul Toole’s desk in June. The final report is expected in December 2016. [post_title] => Rates time bomb for NSW mega councils [post_excerpt] => Four-year rates freeze for merged councils. [post_status] => publish [comment_status] => open [ping_status] => open [post_password] => [post_name] => rates-freeze-on-nsw-mega-councils-a-ticking-time-bomb [to_ping] => [pinged] => [post_modified] => 2016-04-28 19:52:25 [post_modified_gmt] => 2016-04-28 09:52:25 [post_content_filtered] => [post_parent] => 0 [guid] => https://www.governmentnews.com.au/?p=23719 [menu_order] => 0 [post_type] => post [post_mime_type] => [comment_count] => 3 [filter] => raw ) [7] => WP_Post Object ( [ID] => 23619 [post_author] => 659 [post_date] => 2016-04-13 17:04:49 [post_date_gmt] => 2016-04-13 07:04:49 [post_content] => MB3_opt   NSW Premier Mike Baird has opened the door for potential rate increases, especially for buyers of apartments and multi-unit dwellings, aftert asking regulator the Independent Pricing and Regulatory Tribunal (IPART) with a wholesale review of the local government rating system. Income from rates is critical to councils, who use the levies on property owners to fund a broad range of services and infrastructure. However, the way in which rates are set and at what levels, has long been a battleground for cash-strapped local governments, particularly since the introduction of rate capping in NSW in 1979. IPART Chairman Peter Boxall said the $4 billion collected in rates by NSW councils was a major source of funding for local government. “This is an opportunity to revisit all aspects of how rates are levied and to design a system that better supports the sustainable operation of local government in the future and is more equitable. “With billions of dollars and the provision of important services involved, a rating system that is efficient, equitable and sustainable is critical to the good performance of local government for the benefit of the NSW community,” Dr Boxall said. Rates have also been central to the arguments on both sides of the forced council amalgamation debate. While Mr Baird has promised downward pressure on rates from council mergers, opponents of forced mergers have argued that this is unrealistic and that mergers force them up. Reviewing the rates system was one of the key recommendations of the October 2013 Independent Local Government Review Panel’s report.   The key issues that the IPART review will look at are: • Giving councils greater flexibility with the valuation method used to calculate rates. This will include considering whether councils could start charging rates based on the improved value of land, rather than the unimproved value. Land value is currently split between apartments in multi-unit dwellings. • Removing some rate exemptions. Exempt land uses include land used by schools, charities, public hospitals, charities and national parks. Exempt people include pensioners. • Changing the rates system to “improve councils’ long-term financial sustainability and encourage urban renewal.” Could getting rid of the much-hated rate capping be in the offing? • Implementing the government’s promise to freeze rates for four years in areas where councils have merged • Establishing a fair rates system after the four-year freeze on merged council rates • Examining whether the current rating categories of: residential, business, mining and farmland are appropriate You can find the issues paper here.   Developers unconvinced Property developers were immediately suspicious of the push. Urban Taskforce chief Chris Johnson said he was concerned that the rates system review could affect the desirability of living in apartments and multi-unit dwellings. Charges rates based on the improved value of land, for example with a new block of flats on it, has the potential to hit strata owners, apartment dwellers - via rate increases passed on as higher rents - and developers. Mr Johnson said higher rates could hit the benefits of living close to public transport and jobs and the economic spin-offs from this: “I would be worried if the government encouraged local councils to [add] more costs, which means you lose some of the economic gains.” He said the forced amalgamations process and the stress on financial sustainability had led to more councils being “hungrier in terms of looking into ways of making more money.” “I think that IPART needs to be careful in their review of rates and to be aware that there are other mechanisms happening where councils are raising extra funds. “I suspect rates will go up in certain areas. It will have an impact on apartments but marginal rate increases would not upset anyone too much. “The danger here is to push the boundaries a bit too far and I think government is already starting to say: “let’s get value capture out of apartments and contributions to infrastructure and use the improved value.” Mr Johnson said it could deter people from living in and buying apartments. “Sydney can’t keep growing horizontally," he said. Ratepayers living in council areas slated for mergers will also be interested in the results of the review. The government has pledged “no change to the existing rate paths for newly merged councils for four years.” IPART has said it interprets this to mean “the rating path in each pre-merger council’s area will follow the same trajectory as if the merger had not occurred.” The review will take into account whether special rate variations should be allowed under certain circumstances, e.g. when Crown Land is transferred to councils or to fund a specific project. Submissions close on May 13. You can comment here, or attend a public hearing in Sydney, which will be webcast, on April 26. An interim report from IPART is due on NSW Local Government Minister Paul Toole’s desk by June 17 and the draft will be released publicly in August, with a final report in December. [post_title] => Baird kicks open door to rate rises with fresh IPART inquiry [post_excerpt] => Four-year freeze on merged council rates examined. [post_status] => publish [comment_status] => open [ping_status] => open [post_password] => [post_name] => baird-opens-the-door-to-rate-rises-with-fresh-ipart-inquiry [to_ping] => [pinged] => [post_modified] => 2016-04-14 20:16:02 [post_modified_gmt] => 2016-04-14 10:16:02 [post_content_filtered] => [post_parent] => 0 [guid] => https://www.governmentnews.com.au/?p=23619 [menu_order] => 0 [post_type] => post [post_mime_type] => [comment_count] => 0 [filter] => raw ) [8] => WP_Post Object ( [ID] => 23404 [post_author] => 671 [post_date] => 2016-03-21 19:53:09 [post_date_gmt] => 2016-03-21 08:53:09 [post_content] => Sydney Light Rail Tram IMG_0490 Thousands of enterprising Sydney commuters chalking-up $2 million a year in ‘free’ Opal trip value on Transport for NSW’s equivalent to frequent flyer points are about to be derailed and un-rewarded, all thanks to changes to the popular smartcard ticket that hit Monday. After more than a year of successfully milking a free trips incentive to extract Opal network-wide travel for as little $18 a week, commuters participating in so-called ‘Opal-running’ have been warned a crackdown on the short-hop journeys they use to game the free travel reward will now force them to travel at least twice as much before they make their quota. The ‘Weekly Travel Reward’ had been intended to encourage commuters into using public transport more frequently, especially those travelling greater distances who might otherwise find driving cheaper than regularly using public transport. It gives Opal card commuters free travel after eight paid journeys, largely based on the assumption that commuters heading to and from work will space out their travel and pay for the vast majority of what they use. But the pursuit of the free transit prize among eager commuters on Mondays quickly escalated into something between a sport and a cult among inner city passengers, who have increasingly clocking-up extra journeys wherever possible to reach the free fare target, especially on the Light Rail within the CBD. If you travel at full peak fare from the outer suburbs, it makes a lot of financial sense to chalk-up lots of the cheapest short journeys first day of the week and then travel free.   'Cheating' still not illegal Although not illegal, NSW Transport Minister Andrew Constance has accused those milking the fare system of ripping off other commuters and the government by “running, cycling, driving or even roller-skating between train stations or light rail stops to tap on and off.” Put another way, the NSW government is primarily worried about the financial hit and wider inequity that Opal fare gamers are apparently creating, given it can’t actually prosecute anyone for jumping on a tram or train with a valid ticket. “It’s unfair that customers doing the right thing and paying to actually use transport are being cheated by people who are using their own or other people’s cards to artificially inflate their journeys. Some are even using the practice as a business model to earn money,” Mr Constance said. However the Labor Opposition’s Shadow Transport Minister, Jodi McKay isn’t impressed by the Opal crackdown and has accused the Baird Government of sending conflicting signals to commuters. Ms McKay said that in 2014, despite the government being alerted to the problem, then Transport Minister Gladys Berejiklian had encouraged commuters to game the system. “They have known about this for a very long time and are only now doing something about it,” Ms McKay said. “It is a complete contradiction – one Transport Minister saying ‘hey beat the system’ and then the next one saying ‘no,  don’t … and we are going to make it harder.” Ms McKay also questioned why Mr Constance had asked for more time for the Government to respond to an Independent and Regulatory Tribunal (IPART) analysis of public transport fares which she said could see some commuters slugged as much as $950 extra a year. “They know how unpopular this whole thing is, but have given no explanation for the delay,” Ms McKay said.   Rorting epicenter The epicenter of the present fare rorting problem appears to be in downtown Haymarket and Pyrmont where Light Rail stops are just a few hundred metres apart, making it easily time effective to clock-up Opal taps by walking between stops. Businesses with offices serviced by the Star City Casino stop include Google, Fairfax Media, Accenture and Channel 7. Transport sources have told Government News Transport for NSW could disable the Opal readers at light rail stops until just before a tram arrives, but this would then increase ‘dwell times’ and slow down the service, especially during peak times. Government News has also observed some passengers even opportunistically tapping-off on one reader and then tapping back on during the same journey in an effort to accrue journeys, although it’s unclear how effective this actually is. To back his case for the crackdown Mr Constance on Monday released statistics that showed a whopping 63,636 journeys on the light rail made between Star City Casino and Pyrmont Bay on Mondays compared to just 1469 journeys on Wednesday between 1st February and 6th March this year. Light rail fans aren’t the only fanatical group exploiting Opal’s incentives. Mr Constance’s statistics reveal trips between the Inner West heavy rail stops of Erskinville and Macdonaldtown chalked-up 6465 journeys on Mondays in the same period, an impressive piece of footwork considering the stations – which are only 470 metres apart – are on completely different rail lines.   Stops are Tops: Monday hotpsots for serial Opal abusers (Source: Transport for NSW)
Journey Mon Tues Wed Thu Fri Sat Sun
Pyrmont Bay to Star City stops & back (300m apart) 63,636 8,198 1,469 313 149 110 481
Paddy’s Market to Capital Square stops & back (280m apart) 30,285 9,408 2,434 647 238 193 714
Macdonaldtown to Erskineville stations & back (470m apart) 6,465 1,142 178 51 14 6 6
  Not-so-quick fix The NSW Government’s solution to opportunistic fare gaming, although cloaked in transport jargon, has been to dramatically increase the number of taps on-and-off needed to qualify a trip as a ‘journey’ within a given hour on any mode of transport. In a nutshell, this means that commuters who were chalking-up trips by tapping on-and-off three times in one hour will now have to do so seven times before their taps qualify to be counted towards the ‘Weekly Travel Reward’. However the deliberate limitations the solution revolves around are certain to propel debate about whether a much greater number of semi-regular commuters will soon suffer to dissuade a relatively small group of opportunists. A longstanding gripe about Opal’s fare structure is that fares are individually charged across each discrete mode of transport when a commuter combining different services to achieve a single journey. For example, a trip from the Leichhardt in the Inner West to Cremorne on the North Shore could involve Light Rail, Rail and a Ferry and also potentially Bus with a commuter being charged for each transport mode, rather than for a single journey. Many public transport advocates believe that authorities should charge commuters based on just the distance between two points of a journey to encourage commuters to more easily swap modes without being penalized. One potential benefit of that system is that transport authorities could use price signals to better balance passenger loads between modes with less utilized services discounted to take pressure off crowded ones. Another option is to use price signalling to smooth out peak demand, with commuters being offered either discounts or rewards for helping to take pressure off the system. [post_title] => Opal derails one-stop-shopping for weekly rewards [post_excerpt] => Weekly Travel Reward crackdown [post_status] => publish [comment_status] => open [ping_status] => open [post_password] => [post_name] => 23404 [to_ping] => [pinged] => [post_modified] => 2016-03-22 12:37:33 [post_modified_gmt] => 2016-03-22 01:37:33 [post_content_filtered] => [post_parent] => 0 [guid] => https://www.governmentnews.com.au/?p=23404 [menu_order] => 0 [post_type] => post [post_mime_type] => [comment_count] => 3 [filter] => raw ) [9] => WP_Post Object ( [ID] => 23107 [post_author] => 659 [post_date] => 2016-02-18 19:53:26 [post_date_gmt] => 2016-02-18 08:53:26 [post_content] => Empty Pockets   New South Wales Premier Mike Baird is plotting to foist more financial responsibility onto newly merged councils so he can push them borrow more from state debt facilities to take on more of the burden of fixing the state’s crippling infrastructure maintenance backlog, says Labor. Shadow Local Government Minister Peter Primrose believes that NSW Premier Mike Baird is backing forced council mergers while secretly gearing up to increase local councils’ workloads, for example, by handing over responsibility for crown roads, libraries and childcare centres, while simultaneously reducing the state government’s spending. Mr Primrose says: “The state government will cost shift more responsibilities for maintenance and other recurrent expenses onto [new larger] local councils. “The councils can borrow more cheaply from TCorp to pay for these extra responsibilities, but they have to pay it back and loans cost service fees to set up. They can only do this by selling off assets or putting rates up (which the government has promised to make easier to do through Independent Pricing and Regulatory Tribunal or IPART).” NSW local councils have long complained about the increasing levels of “cost shifting”, where state and federal government delegate more functions without commensurate funding, with a 2015 Local Government NSW report arguing that $670 million was shifted onto councils last year. Mr Primrose says the NSW government knows it cannot rely solely on a volatile property market to keep pouring money into its coffers, so it is trying to slash some of its bills by kicking them down to local councils. “It’s about current things that the state has to find money for, like maintaining roads, endless maintenance for everything, grants for servicing libraries, all sorts of things that come out of the state’s recurrent budget, if the property market goes down,” he says. NSW Local Government Minister Paul Toole has touted larger councils, with more responsibility and extolled the benefits of TCorp loans. There are clues in previous Fit for the Future press releases that the government is keen to encourage local councils to borrow more. In an October 2015 press release entitled: “Open for business: borrowing facility for NSW councils”, Mr Toole encouraged councils deemed financially stable to take advantage of “cheaper, long-term loans” from TCorp to use as “cheaper finance for local infrastructure.” It is unclear whether councils such as the Blue Mountains or Blacktown, who were both judged “not fit” by IPART but not required to present merger cases, will be able to access the loans. Mr Toole said: “The borrowing facility will provide Fit for the Future councils with access to low cost loans, saving councils up to $600 million over ten years … if councils increase their borrowing to address the infrastructure backlog, this figure may be higher.” A contributing factor to the suspicion surrounding the Fit for the Future process has been the government’s apparent reluctance to release the full KPMG report which it argues forms the backbone of its business case for mergers. There are around 25 documents that have not been released. The government insists they are “Cabinet in Confidence” – after saying they didn’t exist at all - so it will probably be another 40 years before we know whether this reticence is because the documents just don’t back the government’s desires. By the time the public gets their hands on the full KPMG report, Premier Mike Baird will be 88. “People are saying: “what’s the reason he is overturning all the earlier reports and he won’t release the evidence to show why his arguments are good?” Mr Primrose says, referring to mergers that the government wants that were not recommended by the 2013 Independent Local Government Review Panel’s report, Revitalising Local Government and IPART. “The Premier should release the full report. I mean, we’re not talking about missile codes here; we’re talking about local government statistics.” The assumptions underlying the report are critical, because they partially dictate the recommendations and the outcome. For a long time, there have been criticisms that the government is not being straight with NSW residents and has not made its case properly for mergers. Is this because the truth is unpalatable? Mr Primrose says it is. “If the government is going to press ahead with this, they really need to argue the case and come before the community. The community should be consulted by way of a referendum. “If you’ve got to have mergers, they should be voluntary and based on a good business case. I challenge anyone to show me the evidence because there isn’t any. How can you comment on a proposal when the government refuses to give the reasons for it?” Before mergers proceed, he says, there should be an inquiry into local government finances. “Simply increased cost shifting onto councils is a false economy. Simply making bigger councils is going to solve the problem.” Of course, gossip is rife that forced mergers are also informed by gerrymandering political boundaries, dissuading independent candidates to stand and pandering to developers and big business. Perhaps we’ll have to wait 40 years to find out. [post_title] => Baird's upsized councils an excuse to flog big loans: Labor [post_excerpt] => Infrastructure backlog unloaded onto ratepayers. [post_status] => publish [comment_status] => open [ping_status] => open [post_password] => [post_name] => 23107 [to_ping] => [pinged] => [post_modified] => 2016-02-19 09:02:40 [post_modified_gmt] => 2016-02-18 22:02:40 [post_content_filtered] => [post_parent] => 0 [guid] => https://www.governmentnews.com.au/?p=23107 [menu_order] => 0 [post_type] => post [post_mime_type] => [comment_count] => 0 [filter] => raw ) [10] => WP_Post Object ( [ID] => 23001 [post_author] => 659 [post_date] => 2016-02-09 10:45:57 [post_date_gmt] => 2016-02-08 23:45:57 [post_content] => OldFinal   Seniors’ organisations have criticised the Independent Pricing and Regulatory Tribunal’s (IPART) recommendations that self-funded retirees should surrender their Gold Opal cards and cop a higher daily travel cap, saying it would increase social isolation among older people and damage the third economy. IPART recommended a shake up of the pricing structure of the popular travel card in its December 2015 draft report: “More efficient, more integrated Opal fares” saying it wanted to “achieve fairer fares.” One of the major changes it proposed included tightening access to the Gold Opal card by means testing it. The Tribunal recommended that self-funded retirees be stripped of their Gold Opals and forced onto Concession Opal Cards – where fares are set at half the adult fare and the daily cap is more than triple that of its golden stablemate, at $9. The Council on the Ageing (COTA) NSW and the Older Women’s Network (OWN) said removing Gold Opal cards from some pensioners would damage the third economy – the volunteering sector and the unpaid caring older people do, such as caring for grandchildren or helping sick friends. The joint submission said: “If we as a community want to encourage older retirees to contribute their time to unpaid volunteering and caring activities that benefit everyone in the community, as well as ensure that older people remain socially connected, we must provide incentives for them to get out and about. This we believe was the original intent of the low cost daily fare. “We understand that consideration of ‘social outcomes’ is out of the scope of IPART’s report but believe that evidence has not been provided that use of public transport by people 60 years of age and older will not be negatively affected by these proposed changes. “In addition we believe there could be more far-reaching negative social outcomes as a result of these changes. “ The Combined Pensioners and Superannuants Association of NSW (CPSA) backed this assertion: “The ability for people to remain active, particularly if they don’t have access to a car, enables them to contribute to their communities. “Many Gold Opal card holders rely on their discounted fare to support their engagement in volunteer and community work, as well as to undertake caring responsibilities. Increasing the cost of public transport, either through tightening eligibility for the Gold Opal or by raising fares, will increase the costs of volunteering and the costs of fulfilling unpaid caring responsibilities." A 2015 report by National Seniors Australia and Associate Professor Elizabeth Brooke of Swinburne University of Technology estimated the value of unpaid caring and volunteering hours by older Australians at $38.3 billion a year. The CPSA also argued in its IPART submission that removing this universal travel entitlement could socially isolate some older people and cause harm to their mental and physical health, making them more likely to wind up in residential aged care. “Without a reliable, accessible and affordable transport system, such people are left isolated and unable to independently go about their daily lives [with] poorer health and wellbeing outcomes,” said the CPSA in its submission to IPART. Any permanent NSW resident aged over 60 and working 20 hours or less a week is entitled to a NSW Seniors Card and they are automatically entitled to a Gold Opal card – one of the view universal age-related entitlements in the state. About 1.4 million people currently have NSW Seniors Cards. IPART also recommended that only those people who also hold Pensioner Concession Cards and NSW War Widows cards should have Gold Opal cards and it has suggested lifting the daily travel cap from $2.50 to $3.60 in year one and up to $4 by 2018-9. All three organisations argued that any increase to the $2.50 fare had the potential to reduce the number of older people using public transport, regardless of their income. The CPSA said it had received “numerous phone calls” from low income Seniors Card holders aged between 60 and 65, who were unemployed but below pension age, who used public transport regularly, “These people have indicated they will need to reduce their use of public transport should the changes go ahead.” The Association has also said Gold Opal cards should be extended to people on Newstart and Youth Allowance, who are on between $217 and $262 a week. COTA and OWN said that most older people were on fixed incomes but faced increased living expenses, such as council rates, strata fees and rents and community aged care costs. “Unlike those people working full time, older people’s incomes tend to decrease over time, as they give up work completely, draw down their superannuation and then become increasingly reliant on the age pension,” said their IPART submission. “There is no way the majority of older people can make up the difference in the proposed concession fare increases.” They argued that the proposed changes will hit single women aged between 60 and 65 hardest, since they do not yet qualify for a pension and they are often the most disadvantaged. But IPART has argued that concession travel for pensioners has not increased from $2.50 for ten years, while fares for public transport had gone up by around 30 per cent. Another controversial recommendation stemming from the IPART report is a proposal to axe the “eight trips and you travel for free” perk. The suggestion is that it is replaced with an eye-wateringly complicated weekly travel credit scheme where commuters fork out for the 10 longest (or most expensive) journeys bookended by a bigger weekly maxim charge of $65 that rises to $70 in 2017 and then $75 in 2018. You can read a January 2016 opinion piece about the Opal changes here. [post_title] => Removing Gold Opal card isolates seniors [post_excerpt] => The third economy could lose billions. [post_status] => publish [comment_status] => open [ping_status] => open [post_password] => [post_name] => removing-gold-opal-card-could-damage-the-third-economy [to_ping] => [pinged] => [post_modified] => 2016-02-09 11:41:01 [post_modified_gmt] => 2016-02-09 00:41:01 [post_content_filtered] => [post_parent] => 0 [guid] => https://www.governmentnews.com.au/?p=23001 [menu_order] => 0 [post_type] => post [post_mime_type] => [comment_count] => 5 [filter] => raw ) [11] => WP_Post Object ( [ID] => 22957 [post_author] => 659 [post_date] => 2016-02-03 10:30:18 [post_date_gmt] => 2016-02-02 23:30:18 [post_content] => [caption id="attachment_22960" align="alignnone" width="640"]public inquiry2 Public inquiry into the merger between Ashfield, Leichhardt and Marrickville Councils.[/caption]   The first batch of 80 public inquiries into NSW council mergers began yesterday with many people voicing angry concerns that the government has failed to make a strong enough case for forced mergers to go ahead. Over at Wests Ashfield in Sydney’s Inner West, the public inquiry into a merger between Ashfield, Leichhardt and Marrickville Councils drew about 300 people across the afternoon and evening sessions with about 140 people registered to address Cheryl Thomas, the delegate chairing the public inquiry. Residents, councillors, organisations and council staff spoke across a wide range of issues with almost all speaking in opposition to the creation of a new super council. The main concerns outlined by speakers about mergers were: • Loss of local identity and damage to community spirit • Loss of representation, with more residents per councillor • Developers getting projects approved more easily • New councillors having weaker connections to place and residents • Less diversity in local councils, e.g. women and ethnic minorities • Insufficiently strong business case made by the government to justify merger disruption • Overstatement of the financial benefits and savings of mergers by government • Understatement of the risks and costs of mergers by government • The full KPMG report has not been released • Disruption to services and closure of community facilities • A lack of honesty , transparency and integrity in the merger process • If administrators were appointed, residents would lose their voice during the passage of major developments • If mergers go ahead, senior staff should stay and manage the transition to a new council, after local government elections • Many called for a plebiscite on council mergers Ms Thomas will write her final report based on the merger case, the public inquiries and written submissions and present it to NSW Local Government Minister Paul Toole and to the Boundaries Commission, which will provide comment to Mr Toole. Mr Toole will decide whether or not to recommend each proposal to the NSW Governor. An occasionally feisty crowd listened as representatives from all three councils declared that the Independent Pricing and Regulatory Tribunal (IPART) had found them financially sustainable and solid performers. Ashfield Mayor Lucille Mckenna said councillors had been “jumping through hoops” for the last 18 months during the Fit for the Future process and councils had been erroneously told they were “broke and needed fixing.” “Ashfield is already a lean and resourceful organisation,” Ms McKenna said. “We don’t need to be big to be agile and responsive.” She said the government had underestimated staff redundancy costs and the costs of new shared IT systems, if amalgamations went ahead. “Some of this work is going to go for many, many years and the cost is just enormous,” she added. Ms Mckenna voiced what appeared to be one of the main concerns in the room should mergers go ahead: that new super councils would hand developers carte blanche for huge infrastructure projects. The Inner West is currently the subject of a number of large infrastructure projects, including WestConnex and the renewal of Parramatta Road and the Bays Precinct, the Sydenham to Bankstown rail upgrade, not to mention key sites that have been in limbo for years, such as Callan Park in Rozelle. Ms Mckenna said twelve councillors in the newly-formed mega councils would be representing 186,000 people - or around 15,500 residents each - across 35 sq km and they may not have the detailed local knowledge or the connection to place to represent residents properly or understand developmental impacts. Newtown Greens MP Jenny Leong said installing administrators come June would cause “irreparable damage” to neighbourhoods as locals went without representation during the passage of major developments, “a bureaucrat will be sitting at the helm when actually communities need to be engaged.” Ms Leong gave the example of environmental impact statements around WestConnex, where childcare centres, sports fields and schools had been left off maps. “Local councillors know their local area. What makes local councils work is because they are local,” Ms Leong said. Several people were concerned that councillors would become less diverse and less representative of their populations if there were less of them. Ms McKenna said: “In a large council it’s unlikely that independent or minority candidates would win elections.” In Ashfield Council, one-third of councillors are independent, half are women and half come from non-English speaking backgrounds. Leichhardt Council General Manager Peter Head concentrated on the financial case for mergers. He said there were “serious errors” in the KPMG report the government was using to justify mergers and that savings were about two-thirds less than the report claimed, $23m rather than $88 million over twenty years. Mr Head said the costs of mergers had been understated: “Our independent modelling predicts it will cost $42 million to merge three councils.” Newly-merged metropolitan councils have been offered $10 million by the government towards merger expenses. Leichhardt Council’s Director of Corporate and Information Services, Matthew Phillips, labelled the KPMG report “fundamentally flawed” and said it seriously underestimated the costs associated with mergers, such as staff redundancies and harmonising IT systems. He also disputed the government’s calculations of possible procurement benefits from a merged council, which he said organisations such as Southern Sydney Region of Councils (SSROC) already. “The $65 million is grossly overstated and undermines the government’s case,” Mr Phillips said. Services were also a major topic of the evening. Marrickville Greens Councillor Sylvie Ellsmore said residents most feared specialist services would be cut and some community facilities shut down under an amalgamated council and that there could be a loss of responsiveness to local needs. “There is no information about services in the minister’s [merger] proposal,” Ms Ellsmore said. “It’s a footnote. What about how much residents value services?” Mr Head agreed that services would be affected by amalgamations. He argued that services would either be adjusted down to the lowest standard provided over the three councils, or be adjusted up to the highest standard provided, causing costs (and rates) to rise. One brave women provided the lone dissenting voice of the night, and she may well have represented many people who would be the least likely to attend the meeting: supporters of council mergers or those who don’t care. Claire Carruthers accused councils of being “highly parochial” an exhibiting “a high level of self-interest.” She said councils had run anti-merger scare campaigns based on propaganda. “Many local councillors are not fit for the job. This issue is unimportant to the vast majority of residents,” she said. Despite this, she appeared to agree with the rest of the speakers that NSW Premier Mike Baird had not made his case well: “We need some good information out about the real benefits of amalgamations.” Public inquiries end by February 11 and the deadline for written submissions is Friday February 28. [post_title] => Public inquiries into NSW council mergers kick off [post_excerpt] => Government's merger case weak: councils. [post_status] => publish [comment_status] => open [ping_status] => open [post_password] => [post_name] => 22957 [to_ping] => [pinged] => [post_modified] => 2016-02-04 20:08:09 [post_modified_gmt] => 2016-02-04 09:08:09 [post_content_filtered] => [post_parent] => 0 [guid] => https://www.governmentnews.com.au/?p=22957 [menu_order] => 0 [post_type] => post [post_mime_type] => [comment_count] => 1 [filter] => raw ) [12] => WP_Post Object ( [ID] => 22893 [post_author] => 671 [post_date] => 2016-01-28 20:07:00 [post_date_gmt] => 2016-01-28 09:07:00 [post_content] => 15569683969_950c02281a_m   Analysis: are Opal price changes on the money or on the nose? The highly questionable selling technique of ‘bait-and-switch’ has long been a staple of unscrupulous travel agents, mobile phone providers and lobbyists. So when a government or regulator applies the tactic to public transport pricing, they’re either crazy brave or deeply naïve. Having enjoyed an undeniably successful first term rejuvenating Sydney’s previously badly neglected public transport infrastructure and finally rolling out smartcard ticketing through the Opal Card, what on earth is compelling the Baird government to tinker with what’s so far been an election winning formula: capped fares and heavily discounted travel on Sundays across the city? As the latest summer school holidays meandered their way through December and January, the NSW Independent Pricing and Regulatory Tribunal (IPART) managed to pump out a report that questioned the fairness and sustainability of the present commuter incentives for using Opal … and pushes for a big switch in transport pricing. The core of IPART’s argument seems to be that some types of public transport passengers get more benefit from the present pricing structure – something the body seems extraordinarily keen to even out. The argument goes like this. Instead of the present ‘8 trips and you travel for free’ system, the proposal from the state’s statutory pricing gurus is that commuters should fork out for the 10 longest (or most expensive) journeys bookended by a bigger weekly maxim charge of $65 that rises to $70 in 2017 and then $75 in 2018. There’s also some major grizzling over the present $2.50 all day fare on Sundays … so much for that great political winner, the ‘Family Funday’ that although axed in name lives on in price. But is there really a looming crisis? Here’s the first obvious question: why does the Baird government and IPART feel a sudden urge to engage in a bout of obsessive-compulsive price signal tinkering just when the public transport system is starting to come good and commuters feel they’re finally getting some real value for their taxes? A big selling point for the Opal system, borrowed largely from Transport for London, was that commuters who took pressure off the roads by returning to trains, buses, ferries and trams would be rewarded for more frequent use. The fare structure as it stands is an overt incentive and it sends a strong message that the government recognises that modestly priced public transport is an essential systemic lubricant that delivers positive economic and social outcomes above and beyond the price of running it – as opposed to a cost burden where money needs to be clawed back at every opportunity. Conversely, running the argument that fares need to be beefed-up to distribute the cost burden more evenly actually sends a deeply negative psychological signal that people who take a discounted ferry ride with their family on a Sunday to either Parramatta or Watsons Bay are freeloading or legally ripping-off the system. This is where the danger of the ‘bait-and-switch’ perception comes in. Forget IPART’s necessarily dispassionate numbers. They are rightly paid to calculate, not to feel. The problem for the government is that for commuters it feels like just as the government has got you hooked on public transport, it’s suddenly going to jack up the price and shake you down, a not helped by state Treasury coffers that are embarrassingly swollen with stamp-duty from the property boom. Another big part of IPART’s argument is that people who need to switch modes of public transport –for example use a combination of bus, train or tram – get slugged for a fare each time they change on what is essentially a single rather than being charged a single distance based price. (It’s also one of the reasons the present capping is there.) That’s fair enough, but the real question is well how the Opal system will be able to cope with the mechanics of a fare system that is truly agnostic to modality. For example how will the system know the difference between what is a single trip that includes a switch from a train to a delayed bus and two otherwise discrete journeys? When Myki in Melbourne started charging people extra for late running trains, the public fallout was predictably thermonuclear. And while public transport in NSW has undoubtedly improved over the last five years, the reality is that the Baird government has only really over the last 18 months got the present OPAL system truly up-and-running at full speed. Sure, it’s a massive step forward compared to basket case of disconnected fares, crappy services and a short-sighted fixation over ‘fare boxes’ and revenue collection that saw people routinely fined even when ticket machines broke down so they couldn’t buy a ticket. But when you’ve had a good ride, sometimes it’s very easy to forget the bad old days of public transport. Trying to ‘fix’ a system that people just don’t see as broken and has only just started working is a sure fire way to rekindle people’s memories of just how bad those dark years of public transport in NSW really were. NSW commuters have been very patient with public transport over the past decade. A little patience with commuters in return could go a long way. [post_title] => Opal Card pricing: On the money or on the nose? [post_excerpt] => Will tinkering erode public trust? [post_status] => publish [comment_status] => open [ping_status] => open [post_password] => [post_name] => 22893 [to_ping] => [pinged] => [post_modified] => 2016-01-28 20:04:56 [post_modified_gmt] => 2016-01-28 09:04:56 [post_content_filtered] => [post_parent] => 0 [guid] => https://www.governmentnews.com.au/?p=22893 [menu_order] => 0 [post_type] => post [post_mime_type] => [comment_count] => 3 [filter] => raw ) [13] => WP_Post Object ( [ID] => 22550 [post_author] => 659 [post_date] => 2015-12-18 11:05:13 [post_date_gmt] => 2015-12-18 00:05:13 [post_content] => Rally pic   NSW Premier Mike Baird will eliminate 40 of the state’s local councils in what could well turn out to be the most dangerous risk of his political career. Government News understands that Sydney’s Metropolitan councils will be hacked from 43 to 25 and regional councils reduced from 109 to 87 as the government forces through its merger agenda. As well, changes to the council rates system will have some ratepayers up in arms as the NSW government moves to set rates according to property values, rather than on the value of unimproved land. It is a stunning gamble, given that some of the staunchest opposition to the Premier’s plans has been on Sydney’s North Shore and Northern Beaches: traditional Liberal heartland which includes councils like Woollahra, Pittwater, Mosman, North Sydney, Lane Cove and Hunters Hill, as well as the Premier’s own electorate of Manly. The impact of the Fit for the Future process has already been felt at federal level. When Liberal Trent Zimmerman won Joe Hockey’s North Sydney seat earlier this month there was a 13 per cent swing against his party, which he blamed partly on his government’s forced council mergers. Save our Councils Coalition (SOCC) founder member and Mosman councillor Tom Sherlock said state government’s that had forced council amalgamations in the past had all lost subsequent elections. “I think that basically they deserved to lose those elections,” Mr Sherlock said. “When the state government – even if it has good intentions – when it’s not listening or engaging with the community, which is their basic job, then they have failed as community leaders. They have failed as politicians.” With the NSW election not until 2019 Mr Baird will be hoping that voters' memories are short. He said the NSW government had not explained why the mergers should continue or provided sufficient evidence that they were beneficial. Only a handful of NSW councils initially stepped forward and agreed to merger following the 2013 Independent Local Government Review, including Randwick and Waverley; Burwood, Auburn and Canada Bay; Young and Boorowa and Cootomundra and Harden Shire Councils. More councils – the exact number is not known – submitted merger proposals after the Independent Pricing and Regulatory Tribunal (IPART) report where 87 councils were declared ‘not fit’ and pressurised to submit a merger proposal or forfeit financial incentives and influence in a new council. This tranche included Inner West Sydney councils Marrickville, Ashfield and Leichhardt,  originally the subject of a possible six-council merger in the 2013 review, a move which the government appears to be retreating from. Other changes likely to occur include having an odd number of councillors to avoid deadlocked votes and new powers to allow the minister to appoint a financial controller to councils that are struggling financially. But it is not yet a done deal. The government does not have the numbers in the Upper House. It seems likely that the Boundaries Commission will be reconvened, rather than a wholesale sacking of councils. The Commission would then have to hold a public inquiry which could drag the process on for multiple months. The inquiry would need to consider issues such as the financial advantages of merging, community views, the impact of change, local representation, service provision and the impact on council staff and employment. The bid to dramatically cull the number of councils in NSW is being dovetailed by a push by the Premier to bolster the state’s already healthy balance sheet by cashing in on Sydney’s apartment construction boom and shifting the basis of rates collection from the value of land to what appears to be the overall value of property inclusive of dwellings. According to reports, the NSW ratings system will be concurrently reviewed by IPART at the same time as the merger process is undertaken, opening the door to a wholesale shake-up of how councils are allowed to collect revenue. The shift to rope-in the presently untapped value strata dwellings and multi-unit developments could give merged councils access to substantially more money as mega-developments around transport corridors come online. The option is likely to appeal most to densely populated metropolitan councils because it would alleviate financial stressed caused by the present system of rate capping that is electorally popular but loathed by local governments for the financial constraints it puts on them. Although it is still unclear whether rate-capping would go – another big political risk – a shift to capture the overall property value of individual multi-unit dwellings creates a clear incentive for financially stressed councils to allow far more apartment builds within their boundaries to create an ongoing revenue stream. The ‘flat-tax’ incentive is almost certainly being prepared as a financial sweetener for councils across Sydney that are set to be blitzed by a massive redevelopment push to heavily build out areas close to existing or soon to be developed transport infrastructure – like the Parramatta Light Rail and the Sydney Metro – where the State government has already instigated a ‘value capture’ system to siphon off property value windfalls to pay for transport infrastructure. However developers are already warning that a tax of $200 per square metre for gross floor space will push up the price of a two bedroom unit by around $20,000 and increase the cost of housing. A real fear is the new slug could inhibit some more creative and spacious developments in favour of heavy cramming to maximise yields on risky big capital outlays. At a broader level, the concerted shift to increase the tax take from the Sydney property market is likely to raise the eyebrows of some economists and analysts because it would necessarily up the State’s revenue dependency on an asset class that some banks have previously cautioned is nearing bubble-like proportions. A real scenario known to have been modelled by some analysts is what would happen to Australia’s metropolitan property market in the event of a new economic shock coming out of China or the US. In the meantime, the race by investors, developers and the NSW government to tap the rivers of cash flowing into the Sydney strata market continues in earnest. [post_title] => NSW council mergers: Baird swings axe on 40 local governments [post_excerpt] => Premier goes all in on risky big number amalgamations. [post_status] => publish [comment_status] => open [ping_status] => open [post_password] => [post_name] => nsw-council-mergers-baird-swings-axe-on-40-local-governments [to_ping] => [pinged] => [post_modified] => 2015-12-18 16:53:22 [post_modified_gmt] => 2015-12-18 05:53:22 [post_content_filtered] => [post_parent] => 0 [guid] => https://www.governmentnews.com.au/?p=22550 [menu_order] => 0 [post_type] => post [post_mime_type] => [comment_count] => 3 [filter] => raw ) ) [post_count] => 14 [current_post] => -1 [in_the_loop] => [post] => WP_Post Object ( [ID] => 25687 [post_author] => 659 [post_date] => 2016-11-29 15:13:52 [post_date_gmt] => 2016-11-29 04:13:52 [post_content] =>   Hands holding begging bowl.
  The Independent Pricing and Regulatory Tribunal (IPART) has told NSW local councils to further rein in their spending by forbidding them from increasing their rates by more than 1.5 per cent next year, citing low inflation and minimal growth in costs. The rate peg has fallen continuously for NSW councils. Last year’s cap was 1.8 per cent. In 2003 the cap was 3.4 per cent. The cap is set by examining the price changes for goods, materials and labour that councils typically use over the past year, called the Local Government Cost Index. It is similar to the Consumer Price Index for households.  The measure spells further financial pain for the state’s councils, which have laboured under ratecapping since 1978 and put up with a growing infrastructure backlog and cost shifting from other levels of government, leaving them struggling to contain costs while keeping services running. IPART Chair Peter Boxall said the figure was fair given low inflation and slow wage growth. “Ratepayers would benefit from the modest rate of public sector wages growth in recent years, as well as the continuing low inflationary environment. This has seen the cost of some items used by councils fall, including fuel, gas and telecommunication services," Mr Boxall said.  But Local Government NSW President Keith Rhoades said that the rate peg was a “financial noose which continued to tighten” around councils. "In the five years to 2014/15, it averaged 2.9 per cent per annum - yet the cap for 2017/18 is half that,” Mr Rhoades said. "That means every year councils slip further and further behind," he said.  He vehemently disagreed with Mr Boxall’s conclusions, especially where wages were concerned. "IPART has come to the 1.5 per cent figure despite an increase of 2.3 per cent in employee benefits and on-costs and an increase of 2.7 per cent in non-residential building construction costs, saying those price rises were partly offset by decreases in gas and fuel prices. "But that just fails to recognise the ongoing squeeze on councils that comes from the combination of rate-pegging and cost-shifting, and deteriorating infrastructure.” Councils that wish to set rates above the rate peg must apply for a one-off special rate variation, which many councils use to fund a particular projects, such as a new aquatic centre. This is not a straightforward process. Councils must consult their communities and prove that any increase over the cap is justified, as well as show evidence of long-term financial planning and productivity improvements. But the 19 new NSW councils created in May 2016 will not be able to apply for a special rate variation. These councils have already been told by NSW Premier Mike Baird that they will not be able to increase their rates beyond the normal trajectory for each of the old council areas for four years. Mr Rhoades said the measly rate peg was not good news for any of NSW's local councils. "The reality is that rates have not kept pace with the cost of services and infrastructure that local government is expected to deliver,” he said. "The whole system is set up to make councils look inefficient and financially profligate, when the opposite is true." [post_title] => IPART reduces rate peg again: NSW councils told to tighten their belts [post_excerpt] => Merged councils hamstrung. [post_status] => publish [comment_status] => open [ping_status] => open [post_password] => [post_name] => 25687 [to_ping] => [pinged] => [post_modified] => 2016-12-02 10:24:49 [post_modified_gmt] => 2016-12-01 23:24:49 [post_content_filtered] => [post_parent] => 0 [guid] => https://www.governmentnews.com.au/?p=25687 [menu_order] => 0 [post_type] => post [post_mime_type] => [comment_count] => 0 [filter] => raw ) [comment_count] => 0 [current_comment] => -1 [found_posts] => 41 [max_num_pages] => 3 [max_num_comment_pages] => 0 [is_single] => [is_preview] => [is_page] => [is_archive] => 1 [is_date] => [is_year] => [is_month] => [is_day] => [is_time] => [is_author] => [is_category] => [is_tag] => 1 [is_tax] => [is_search] => [is_feed] => [is_comment_feed] => [is_trackback] => [is_home] => [is_404] => [is_embed] => [is_paged] => [is_admin] => [is_attachment] => [is_singular] => [is_robots] => [is_posts_page] => [is_post_type_archive] => [query_vars_hash:WP_Query:private] => c6b6b86781ab83e4a3683a4341384e13 [query_vars_changed:WP_Query:private] => 1 [thumbnails_cached] => [stopwords:WP_Query:private] => [compat_fields:WP_Query:private] => Array ( [0] => query_vars_hash [1] => query_vars_changed ) [compat_methods:WP_Query:private] => Array ( [0] => init_query_flags [1] => parse_tax_query ) )

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