A QUARTER now or a third later? It's the question facing Port Stephens ratepayers after the council narrowed options for its looming rate rise.
Ratepayers face either a one-off 26 per cent jump from July 1 next year, or three consecutive 10.5 per cent rises for a higher overall jump under the proposals detailed in documents now on public exhibition.
The council's new general manager, Tim Crosdale, said putting documents including the options on public display would let ratepayers weigh in on how the council should balance decreasing revenue and rising costs.
"We know from our engagement to date that our community supports a financially sustainable council," he said. "We also know that there's a good understanding that our low residential rates can't continue to support the level of services we offer."
"For the past month, we've been talking to residents across Port Stephens. We've presented five rate options and asked for feedback on how best to move forward. This has helped us drill down to two options that we've incorporated into our statutory planning documents."
The 10.5 per cent option was recommended by an external advisor. Both plans include the annual rate cap, which sits at 2.5 per cent and is under review.
The council's chief financial officer, Tim Hazell, said both options had merits.
"Under the single year scenario, ratepayers would pay more up front but less over time. Council would achieve a balanced budget in one year," he said. "We'd be able to immediately deliver improvements to our services.
"Under the independent recommendation scenario, ratepayers pay less each year but more over time. Council would reach its target in three years and the community would see a gradual enhancement of services.
"Both options see the predicted budget shortfall eliminated and provide additional funds for enhanced services.
Mr Hazell said the extra cash reaped in the rate rises would allow spending on "the community priorities we've been hearing like road maintenance, condition of our public spaces, and protecting our waterways and natural environment".
Tomaree Ratepayers and Residents Association spokesman Geoff Washington said the group, which opposed the council's last bid for a rise, felt there was more justification behind this push but would consult with its members about the two specific options.
Mayor Ryan Palmer said the council was under no illusion that it would be easy for ratepayers to foot the bill.
"As part of the planning documents we've also proposed a range of additional affordability measures to support those most vulnerable," Mayor Palmer said.
"The community can have their say from 14 September via a short survey, written submission or by attending one of the many face to face drop in session held across Port Stephens."
The Integrated Planning and Reporting documents are on exhibition until 5pm October 12.
IN OTHER NEWS:
WHAT DO YOU THINK? We've made it a whole lot easier for you to have your say. Our new comment platform requires only one log-in to access articles and to join the discussion on the Newcastle Herald website. Find out how to register so you can enjoy civil, friendly and engaging discussions. Sign up for a subscription here.