FAQs - YOUR QUESTIONS ANSWERED
Why is Council undertaking this community consultation?
Council is undertaking a program of community consultation over the next 6 months to find out what services our community value most.
Council faces some financial challenges and cannot continue to provide existing levels of service to the community with our current funding levels. We therefore need to know what services our community cannot live without, what they think we can do better, and whether there are any services we should stop providing.
Council needs to continue to provide community services that we are sure meet the needs and expectations of the people of Lake Macquarie.
How do we know that Lake Macquarie City Council is efficient?
When rate pegging was introduced in 1977, Lake Macquarie was an emerging city with limited services. Even though we are now a developed, cosmopolitan city with all the services expected in a thriving community, our rates remain low due to rate pegging. Comparative studies consistently demonstrate that LMCC is efficient in its operations and that our employee costs are well below other similar councils.
What services does Lake Macquarie City Council provide?
Lake Macquarie City Council offers 93 services to the community.
1. Domestic Waste Collection
2. Commercial Waste Collection
3. Bulk Waste Collection
4. Domestic and Commercial Waste Recycling Services
5. Parks and Public Place Waste Collection
6. Teralba Worm Farm
7. Waste Management and Disposal (Awaba Facility)
8. Special Waste Stream Management – Oil, Sharps, e-Waste, Batteries, etc)
9. Waste Planning and Education
10. Contract Effluent Removal Services and On-Site Sewerage Management Systems
11. Noxious Weeds, Pests and Vegetation Control
12. Tree Management (Private Land)
13. Reducing Risks from Natural Disasters, Climate Change, and Environmental Health Threats, such as Land Contamination
14. Energy and Water Savings for Council and the Community
15. Natural Areas Protection and Enhancement
16. Community Engagement to Support Local Sustainability Initiatives, Including Small Grants Program
17. Environmental Education Programs – (Environmental Research Grants, Schools Education, Community Education, Information and Monitoring)
18. Floodplain Management
19. Road and Pedestrian Areas Sweeping and Cleaning
20. Lake and Foreshore Management
21. Horticultural Services
22. Fire Mitigation/Hazard Reduction and SQIDS
23. Animal Control and Education
24. Noise Control
25. Illegal Dumping
26. Parking Enforcement
27. Traffic Control
28. Removal of Abandoned Vehicles
29. Food Premises Inspection and Registration
30. Environmental and Public Health Compliance
31. Support to Fire Protection Services (Rural Fire Services)
32. Support to State Emergency Services
33. Cleaning of Public Toilets, BBQ’s, Footpaths, and Street Sweeping in Business Districts
34. Aboriginal Community Liaison
35. Children Services
36. Youth Services
37. Family Day Care
38. Age and Disabled Services
39. Crime Prevention
40. Economic Development Support (Assistance to Businesses Relocating, Demographic Information and Analysis, Programs and Training for Small and Micro Business, Sourcing Grants)
41. Town Centre Program (Marketing, Events, Encourage Business Diversity and Growth, and Improvements to Town Centres)
42. Tourism and Visitor Services (Operation of Visitor Centre, Electronic Marketing and General Advertising and Promotion, Promotion, Bookings, Sister City Liaison)
43. Public Cemeteries
44. Development Application Assessment and Compliance
45. Subdivision Assessment
46. Building Assessment and Compliance (Fire Safety and Erosion Sediment Control)
47. Property Certificates
48. Strategic Land Use Planning
49. Developer Contributions and Administration
50. Buildings Planning, Maintenance and Replacement
51. Roads Planning, Maintenance, and Replacement
52. Bridges and Jetty Planning, Maintenance, and Replacement
53. Drainage Planning, Maintenance, and Replacement
54. Parks and Reserves Planning, Maintenance, and Replacement
55. Natural Areas Planning and Maintenance
56. Traffic and Transport Infrastructure Planning, Maintenance, and Replacement (Bus Stops, Parking and Speed Controls, Line Marking, Directional Signage, Safety Audits, Pedestrian Crossings, Traffic Lights etc)
57. Sealing Gravel Roads Program
58. Kerb and Gutter Construction Program
59. New Roads Construction Program
60. Road Resurfacing, Resealing and Rehabilitation Program
61. Roadside Litter Collection (Community Service Orders)
62. Regional Roads Program (Improvements and Maintenance to State Roads)
63. Drainage Improvement Program
64. Traffic facilities Improvement Program
65. Footways and Cycleways Program
66. Street Lighting
67. Graffiti Removal
68. Hunter Region Sports Centre, Glendale
69. Lake Foreshore Facilities (Boat Ramps, Jetties, Wash Down Areas, Fish Cleaning Facilities, etc)
70. Park Facilities (Playgrounds, Shelters, BBQs, Toilets, )
71. Park Landscape Maintenance
72. Public Tree Management
73. Recreation Land Planning (Sportsfield Strategy, Playground Strategy, Masterplans for Parks and Sports Grounds)
74. Assistance to Sporting and Community Facilities Management
75. Park Improvement Program
76. Lake Macquarie Games
77. Beach and Surf Life Saving Services
78. Public Toilets
79. Swimming Centres and Programs (Including Learn to Swim and Aquarobics)
81. Art Gallery
82. Cultural Activities (Support for Community Groups Holding Events)
83. Australia Day Festival
84. Carols by Candlelight
85. Lake Macquarie Performing Arts Centre
86. Holiday Parks (Management and Enhancement of Council’s Four Parks)
87. Commercial Properties (Management and Administration of Councils Property Investment Interests)
88. Property Leasing (Administration of Community Held Land or Facilities that Allows Various Groups to Hold Legal Occupation of a Council Asset)
89. Land and Property Development (Realising the Best Outcomes of Council Owned Land)
90. Land Reclassifications (Changes the Categorisation of How Land is Held Under the Local Government Act to Enable Council to Lease or Sell the Land)
91. Donations and Financial Support
92. Customer Service
93. Democratic Government
If Council is so ‘lean’, why do we have a cash shortfall?
Each year Council determines the level of works and services it proposes to deliver to our community based on responsible management of our finances. However, due to the restrictions of rate pegging and other cost pressures we cannot always deliver the required works and services at the level required by our community.
What are the assumptions behind Council's projections?
Council's Long Term Financial Model contains many assumptions in regard to future income and expenditure. Some of these assumptions include estimates of future investment earnings, loan borrowings, borrowing costs, wage increases, increases in various contract prices, increases in fees and charges and many more.
Why does LMCC receive much less income per capita than other comparable councils?
This is one of the consequences of rate pegging. When rate pegging was introduced in 1977 all councils were limited by the same percentage rate increase, even though some had much higher rating bases than others. There was no consideration given to equalise the rating capacity of individual councils at the time the rate pegging was introduced. This has now resulted in Lake Macquarie being under a significant disadvantage to other councils in our ability to generate land rates commensurate with the level of services demanded by our community.
What’s meant by fixed income – isn't LMCC one of the fastest growing areas in NSW?
Yes, Lake Macquarie is one the faster growing areas in NSW, and as a result the income derived from rates is increasing. However, with growth there is also an increase in the demand for services from Council and subsequently, increased costs.
Will Council use short-term asset sell-offs to fund budgets?
A strategic review of all council land assets has been carried out to identify those land holdings that are no longer required to be held by Council. Over time, these non-strategic land holdings may be sold to generate income to fund other community priorities.
Do you anticipate a rate increase for Lake Macquarie residents?
Council has been operating in a very lean manner for a number of years and we have previously not sought rate increases above the recommended general increase. In order to maintain the service levels that residents expect, we anticipate that a change in Council funding will be required.
Why isn't LMCC on the list of Councils receiving increases above the rate peg amount from NSW independent body (IPART)?
A council cannot increase rates above the rate peg amount without first consulting with the community and then making a submission to IPART. Council will consider making an application to IPART following the completion of the Securing Our Future community consultation.
What do rates have to increase by to keep all services? What is the rate increase to maintain all current functions of Council?
For Council to maintain existing services and remain financially sustainable, we would expect that a rate increase would be significant however we need to continue engaging with the community to ensure that we find the right balance between service levels and what our community are willing and can afford to pay for.
We are currently engaging with the community to determine what level of service the community values and what the priorities are. There will be further consultation taking place in late October, after we have worked closely with a community representative panel to develop funding scenarios. The consultation will seek feedback on these scenarios to determine which model (including any proposed rate increase) is preferred by the community.
By what percentage would rates have to increase to remove the deficit?
We are currently engaging with the community to determine what level of service the community values and what the priorities are. There will be further consultation taking place in late October, after we have worked closely with a community representative panel to develop funding scenarios. The consultation will seek feedback on these scenarios to determine which model is preferred by the community.
Will the pensioner rebate increase if the rates do?
No unfortunately the pensioner rebate will not increase if the rates do. It will remain at the maximum amount of $250 per year.
Why the big difference in business rates compared to Newcastle?
It is entirely at the discretion of each individual Council how it structures it rates, and determines the mix between rating categories. When Lake Macquarie first introduced non-residential rates in the early 1990s it chose a level of rates it felt was appropriate at that time. The mix of rates between residential and business has remained reasonably constant since the early 1990s.
Why the difference between business rates for GPT's Charlestown Square and Westfield's Kotara? Can’t we match them?
The difference is a result of differences in the rating structure between Lake Macquarie and Newcastle. The business rate in Newcastle is significantly higher than Lake Macquarie. Council could increase the rates for Charlestown Square if it chose to alter its rating structure. However, it is important to note that this would not mean any additional rate revenue unless the increase formed part of a special rate variation above the 2.8% rate pegging limit. To do this, Council would need to apply to the Independent Pricing and Regulatory Tribunal.
What is the source of Wyong's rate income?
As well as receiving residential and commercial rate income, Wyong Council, along with Gosford Council, form the Gosford-Wyong Council Water Authority, from which they also receive income.
Can we save money by being more sustainable?
Yes, reducing our consumption of resources and generation of waste provides considerable potential for cost savings to Council and the community. For example, Council has achieved savings of $150,000 per annum through the introduction of solar technologies at various Council sites.
Would it help if there was more emphasis on business?
Income generating activities were an important aspect of the recent Service Review, and will ultimately provide additional sources of revenue for Council. Property management and business activities are two such opportunities that have been identified.
The Service Review recognised potential revenue through a change in focus towards Council's property investment portfolio. An implementation team has since developed a draft 5-year Investment Property Strategy to expand these opportunities. This Strategy has projected an average net profit of $6 to 9 million per year over the next 5 years. Profits beyond this timeframe are also expected to be realised.
Lakemac Enterprises (LME) has been established to generate additional income through a combination of internal and external business opportunities. Within 5 years, it is anticipated LME will generate an additional $1 to 1.5 million in income for Council.
Can we look across all Council services and review what could be shared with other councils?
As a direct consequence of the Lake Macquarie City Council Service Review, Lakemac Enterprises (LME) has been established as a business support framework to generate additional income for the organisation. This will be achieved by using existing resources and capacity within Council during normal workload fluctuations and outsourcing services to other local councils, government agencies, and business entities. LME will further investigate shared service opportunities and partnering arrangements, such as public-private partnerships and community and commercial 'arms-length' entities.
Although shared services have been part of Council's business to date (e.g. Hunter Councils, Recycling, RTA and Councils Online) further opportunities are currently being investigated in the areas of:
- Planning and Building Services
- Fleet Management Services
- Safety Services
- Metal Fabrication
- Human Resources
- Customer Call Centre
Instead of using too much money on 'consulting fees' (e.g. $100K to move to Glendale) why can’t Council save our libraries (rather than shopfront libraries) as vital community facilities and look at sharing the cost of equipment and garbage services wit
Council is exploring shared service opportunities and partnering arrangements for some service areas (see above response). With regard to libraries Lake Macquarie Council is committed to providing library services to Lake Macquarie residents in a socially and financially equitable way. The Draft Lake Macquarie Library Service Delivery Model aims to improve customer convenience and services whilst containing costs.
The Library Service Review broadly aims to increase library use and make better use of Council facilities through a series of recommendations, including the relocation of existing libraries and the development of new libraries along with the modification of service delivery.
What has been done to break through the rates pegging hiatus to achieve a more sensible rate income?
Any council wishing to seek an increase in general income above the rate peg amount is required to submit an application to the Independent Pricing and Regulatory Tribunal (IPART) for review and assessment. Such an application would have to demonstrate a level of community engagement and support for a change in rates. Council will consider making an application to IPART following the completion of the Securing Our Future community consultation.
What are some examples of cost shifting?
Cost shifting is where the responsibility for or costs of providing a certain service, concession, asset or regulatory function are 'shifted' from a higher level of government to a lower level of government without the provision of corresponding funding or increased revenue raising capacity.
The latest survey completed for Lake Macquarie City Council for the financial year 2009/2010, indicated that $15.5m of Council's operating expenses were the direct result of cost shifting from other tiers of Government. While it could be suggested that councils have an opportunity to discontinue services, the reality of removing these services needs to be considered at both a social, financial and political level.
The definition adopted for the survey is based on the definition used in the survey undertaken for the Independent Inquiry into the Financial Sustainability of NSW Local Government in 2006.
Examples of cost shifting to Lake Macquarie City Council identified in the 2009/10 survey include:
Contribution to NSW Fire Brigades $1,683,297
Contribution to Rural Fire Service $443,057
Contribution to NSW SES $142,000
Pensioner rates rebates - net cost incurred (portion of rebates issued returned to Council in the form of a rebate) $2,022,000
Public Library Operations $3,644,688
On-site sewerage facilities $221,592
Companion Animal Act administration $578,337
Administration of Contaminated Land Management Act (NSW) $19,927
Functions under the Protection of the Environment Operations Act $78,232
Immigration services & citizenship ceremonies $7,756
Administering Food Safety Regulation $83,715
Provision of educational services $11,819
Community Safety $88,966
Flood mitigation program $10,775
Community and Human Services $270,850
Waste Levy $5,305,000
What is being done to put pressure on the State Government to give back more money to councils to carry out the work they have shifted to councils?
A 2010 survey on the impact of cost shifting on local government from state and federal governments shows that this practice continues to skyrocket and is affecting the capacity of local government to deliver services.
As recommended by the Independent Inquiry into Financial Sustainability of NSW Local Government, the Local Government and Shires Association (LGSA) undertakes an annual cost shifting survey of NSW councils to help quantify the actual amount of cost shifting by the Australian and NSW governments on to NSW local government.
The annual survey measures the amount of cost shifting for a representative sample of the 152 general purpose councils in NSW, calculates a cost shifting ratio for each council and calculates, from the sample ratio, an estimate of the amount of cost shifting onto the whole of NSW local government.
Despite awareness of cost shifting and its adverse impacts on local government, cost shifting remains at a high level. Indicative figures show that cost shifting onto NSW local government amounts to around 6 per cent of total income before capital amounts. This represents about $380 million in the financial year 2005/06, $412 million in 2006/07, $431 million in 2007/08 and $440 million in 2008/09.
LMCC continually expresses concern to local state and federal members on the inappropriate imposts by other spheres of government through cost shifting.
How is it that Council has sustained a balanced budget without increasing rates above the rate peg?
Council has used things like the assets replacement reserves to balance the budget and as our assets continue to age, and depreciation continues to increase, our operating deficit is increasing and this type of borrowing is no longer viable.
Do the rates on a block of ground change in value when the number of dwellings on it change?
Yes, this is usually the case when land is subdivided. When this occurs the Valuer General provides a new valuation for each of the lots in the subdivision and Council levies rates for each of the new lots in the subdivision. Generally this means increased rate income to Council.
Has the cost of the carbon tax been factored in for expected increased costs for Council?
The likely cost increase to Council has been calculated based on available information about the proposed carbon pricing structure. Council will face increases of about 0.7% in the costs of goods and services, excluding electricity. Electricity prices are likely to increase by about 10%. In addition, waste charges are likely to increase by about 2% per household.
Can we ask the State Government for a distribution from our Tourist Parks?
The four Holiday Parks managed by Council (Belmont Pines, Blacksmiths Beachside, Swansea Gardens and Wangi Point) are self sustaining and run at no cost to Council. Each park is self-funded from the revenue gained from tourists, holiday van owners and permanent onsite residents. This revenue is reinvested back into the parks and used for capital work projects and improvements to facilities. Revenue also covers land costs, as the parks are leased from Crown Lands and National Parks.
Does Woolworths have any conditions on Council, like not allowing ALDI's to have a business in Morisset?
Council has no specific conditions that restrict Aldi from establishing a business in Morisset; however, there may be circumstances where Woolworths imposes lease conditions that preclude Aldi operating on any Woolworth's site.
What services are cost neutral? Are these services not being considered for cuts as there is no economic benefit to council income?
If a service provided by council is currently fully funded by a fee or charge it is unlikely that this service would be considered for cutting as this would provide no financial benefit.
What does the Morisset Town Coordinator achieve?
The Morisset Town Coordinator lobbies Council and state and federal governments for local facilities and actions. The Coordinator has been instrumental in getting a PCYC facility at Morisset. The Coordinator has also developed a comprehensive business directory for Southlake area. The role involves planning and running community events in Morisset, and undertaking marketing promotions and training for local business.
Can LMCC re-open an airport (at Pelican or Cooranbong) to provide important services and generate income?
Council supports the re-opening of a small scale airport at Belmont on the Aeropelican site. In particular, an airport that provides regular passenger services as a feeder to intrastate, interstate, and international airports is favoured. The benefits would include convenient service to local residents and businesses, employment opportunities and tourist access. Council does not own the former Aeropelican site and would not therefore be in a position to generate revenue from any such venture.
The former airport site at Cooranbong has been approved for redevelopment by the NSW Government for residential and other urban uses. It is understood that the owners intend to proceed with that development removing any potential future re-use of the site as an airport.
Why not charge a fee per square metre, or an application fee, for commercial signs on Council land?
Council is not generally in favour of commercial signs on community land. However, we do accept sportsground advertising, but the signs must face the ground, not the road. Subject to development consent, Council may support signage on other Council-owned land. Application fees are regulated under the Environmental Planning and Assessment Regulation 2000.
Can LMCC become a single use plastic bag free council area? See www.banthebag.com.au
Council does not have the legislative power to ban single use plastic bags - that is the responsibility of the state government. Council could pass a resolution seeking to negotiate a voluntary agreement with retailers to cease distribution of plastic bags and/or lobby State Parliament to legislate a statewide ban.
What are Council's values/priorities? Sustainability? Infrastructure?
Council's values and priorities are detailed in the Lake Macquarie Community Plan 2008 - 2018. The 10-year plan was developed after extensive community engagement and shows the community's priorities and how council will deliver upon these. The community plan is aspirational in that many of the projects identified are unachievable under current funding levels.
Why have you not considered amalgamation with Newcastle City Council to increase your population base?
Evidence has shown that with respect to amalgamations, contrary to often heard claims, there are few cost savings and little efficiency gains from consolidation. Lake Macquarie City Council expends far less than other comparable councils, such as Newcastle, and has a lower level of income per capita. An amalgamation would not provide financial sustainability for the council or the community.
Lake Macquarie City Council would be better placed looking at alternative methods of local government reform involving collaborative voluntary partnerships between councils. Partnerships, such as the one we have in place for waste recycling, are much more likely to be effective in securing any economies of scale or scope that may be available.
Council is also focused on implementing its Service Review, especially those elements of the review dealing with additional revenue-raising activities to assist in reducing the rate burden.
Could Council go back to plain straight letters to ratepayers instead of glossy information sheets that must costs more money? It looks good but do we need basic services more?
It does cost money to communicate and engaging, informing and consulting with our community is part of our responsibility under the Local Government Act 1993. Council has its own in-house printing service and graphic designers so we can produce professional publications in a very cost effective way. We consistently use a range of inexpensive recycled paper. Some of this paper is glossy and is no more expensive than matt alternatives. When we undertake the mailout of any material to our community, we consider the cost implications along with the need to communicate to a wide audience in the most appropriate way.