Monday, 3 February 2014

Clarence Valley Council rating by the numbers

It may be only the second month of 2014, however the vexed question of council rates is a perennial one and North Coast Voices first reader queries of the year were on this very subject.

Quite frankly it has always been a mystery to me as to how Clarence Valley Council actually decides its rates for specific areas, because whatever decision is announced one is always left with a sneaking suspicion that it has less to do with any rating structure framework and more to do with the political influence exerted by certain individuals and specific interest groups.

This appears to be how the Council’s latest attempt to set its rates is playing out.........

In Clarence Valley Council’s minutes of its ordinary monthly meeting of 10 December 2013 it included this table and advice in Item: 14.179/13 RATING STRATEGY at Page 152:

What this data indicates is that the majority of the areas within the Clarence Valley LGA are below the state average in terms of socio-economic wellness. Junction Hill is on par with the State Average, and 166 basis points (20%) ahead of South Grafton, which is on the lower end of the scale. This information should be considered in terms of addressing the affordability aspect when developing the 2014/15 rating structure.

The table appears to have been prepared using an identical table found at .id the population experts.

Rather interestingly, it appears that Clarence Valley shire councillors are being invited by council staff to approach their decision-making from a disease model, if the term "wellness" is any indicator. Apparently they are meant to ignore the fact that the index score table is based on socio-economic characteristics only.

On 10 December these councillors unanimously voted to; adopt the Rating Structure Framework outlined in this report which is to be used to guide the preparation of Council’s 2014/15 Rate Structure.

However, it is always wise to look closely at SEIFA figures used by local government, as not only do these figures vary between Australian Bureau of Statistics (ABS) tables based on the same census, there is often a tendency to attempt to group two or more identified suburbs together which can distort the original ABS published relative index scores.

Thus using Clarence Valley Council’s version of data found in ABS Table 3. State Suburb (SSC) Index of Relative Socio-economic Disadvantage 2011, Clarenza’s score of 1044 is submerged into a district score of 956, Junction Hill’s score of 1008 is similarly hidden in a district score of 996, Grafton’s 921 score becomes 917, while South Grafton drops two points from 832 to 830.

Gleanreagh is given a lower index score in Council’s table when merged with Lanitza, which in this paper merger ends up with a higher score than that assigned to it by the ABS. Similarly Ulmarra ends up with a higher score it its district merger. Waterview Heights loses 24 points off its index score in the district merger with Seelands, which fortuitously has its own high score of 1009 effectively concealed.

In the Lower Clarence the main tourism towns of Maclean, Yamba and Iluka have unaltered scores, but semi-rural Lawrence and Woombah have ABS official scores 33 points higher and 45 points lower respectively than the combined district score given in Council’s version of the published table.

Angourie with its high index score of 1012 doesn’t rate an individual mention in Council’s table, neither does Gulmarrad’s 1007 score nor does Brooms Head’s relatively low score of 866.

As in theory higher index scores may be one possible indicator of less relative socio-economic disadvantage in an identified area, one has to wonder why Council appears intent on minimising certain Upper and Lower Clarence index scores which shire councillors might refer to when discussing any future rate rises.

The question I am hearing most often from Yamba ratepayers is; Why it is that the main coastal tourism town will probably feel the full weight of any rate rises, when Yamba has a higher proportion of people in older age groups of 60 years+, less households with higher incomes and a higher percentage of households with weekly incomes of less than $600, when compared with Grafton or the Clarence Valley as a whole?

When similarly in comparison with Grafton it has fewer people sustaining a high income-earning capacity over time, a higher level of unemployment, less social housing and, higher monthly rental and mortgage repayment costs. 

As well as the valley average for people needing assistance with core activities and less immediate/direct access to the full range of health/community/government infrastructure and services situated in Grafton City and environs.

The next local government election in the Clarence Valley may be in three years time but ratepayers have long memories.

Those sixteen current rating categories/subcategories need to be addressed based on more than a north vs south viewpoint and a hope that ratepayers ire will subside quickly once the deed is done.

Councillors need to truthfully explain to their electorate why a large number of properties in urban ‘clusters’ with no obvious relative socio-economic disadvantage, beyond that generally experienced by the valley as a whole when it is compared with the rest of NSW, are likely to be classified as more disadvantaged by the time Council gets around to voting on the base rate and any rate rises.

Especially as SEIFA index scores are not necessarily a good tool to use in setting rates in the first place. SEIFA indexes measure people's access to material and social resources, and their ability to participate in society. Index scores used by Council are the cruder measures in the comparison range within these indexes.

All 2033.0.55.001 - Census of Population and Housing: Socio-Economic Indexes for Areas (SEIFA), Australia, 2011 data can be found here.

All National Regional Profile 2007-2011 are found here.

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