What is the Environment Levy?

    Levies are a common way for Councils to obtain additional funding for specific projects. Environment Levies have been used by many Councils over the years including Blue Mountains, Ku-ring-gai, Hornsby, Penrith and Pittwater.

    The current Wingecarribee Shire Council (WSC) Environment Levy was approved by the Minister for Local Government and continues until 2013. It was granted to WSC Council to enable us to deal with crucial environmental issues within the Shire including:

    • river health
    • restoration of wetlands, riparian zones and bushlands reserves
    • biodiversity conservation,
    • conservation of endangered species and ecological communities
    • urban environmental sustainability.

    The funds were also approved to enable Council to maximize its opportunity to gain external grant funding from agencies such as the Hawkesbury Nepean Catchment Management Authority, Environmental Trust and the Federal Governments "Caring for Our Country" program. Grant funding applications usually require the applicant to contribute an equal amount of money (matching funding) to the project and the additional funds provided by the Environment Levy allow us to do this.

    How long has the Levy been in place?

    The Environment Levy has been in place since 1 July 2000. It has been renewed three times since, as a result of Council's successful applications to the Department of Local Government. The current Levy began in 2008 and expires in 2013.

    Why is Council applying for the Levy to be made permanent?

    Council has already had the levy renewed three times, with the support of the community, and now wishes to reapply for the Levy to be permanent.

    The Community Strategic plan, Wingecarribee 2031, provided Council with feedback from the community regarding their wishes in relation to the environmental works they want Council to conduct.

    A permanent Levy will allow Council to continue with, and maintain, a range of ongoing projects aimed at improving the condition of our natural environment. Council will be able to better plan future projects knowing it will have the capacity to carry them out to their full term.

    Having ongoing funding allocated to environmental works will also mean Council will be better placed to apply for grant funding available from the various external agencies.

    The Levy renewal process is extremely time consuming and involves many Council employees. Approval of a permanent Environment Levy will reduce the time spent by Council having to reapply every three years, allowing staff to focus on the actual work the Environment Levy is funding.

    How much does it cost me and how is it calculated?

    The amount a ratepayer is charged for the Environment Levy appears on your rates notice.

    The local government Act 1993 requires Council to categorise every parcel of rateable land into one of four main categories (Farmland, Mining, Residential or Business). Your rates notice will identify the rating category that has been assigned to your property.

    There are two calculations that determine the Levy for each property. Firstly, there is a fixed base amount*. Secondly, there is a variable component, which can be found by multiplying the rate in the dollar** by your land valuation (which appears in the top right hand corner of your rate notice). If you add the variable component amount of this calculation to the base amount* it will equal your Environment Levy charge.

    EXAMPLE: For an average residential ratepayer in 2012/13 with an unimproved property valuation of $273,000, the calculation would be:

    Variable component ($273,000 X 0.00006520**)      = $17.80
    Base Amount*                                                                    = $22.60
    Environment Levy                                          = $40.40

    *Base Rate: $22.60
    **Rate in the Dollar: 0.00006520 (this amount will change each year as a result of any rate pegging increase or change to your properties land value as determined by the Valuer Generals Department.)

    The Levy is subject to normal rate pegging. Rate Pegging is the allowable rate increase approved by IPART each year for all Councils, to make allowances for the rising cost of living.

    For more detailed information on the financial implications of the Environment Levy under different options please refer to the fact sheet ‘Impacts on Ratepayers’.

    What does the Environment Levy fund?

    The Environment Levy has funded much needed work in the shire to improve and maintain river health, rehabilitate riverside corridors, remove environmental weeds, regenerate & restore degraded land, and conserve and enhance natural biodiversity.

    Achievements of the Levy to date include:

    • Over 1.25 Million dollars leveraged in grant funding.
    • 45 sites throughout the Shire currently managed by the Bushcare team. Many of these sites were identified by the community as needing active remediation and/or management.
    • 17 active landcare/ bushcare groups made up of 174 volunteers are supervised by Councils bushcare team.
    • Supporting federal, state and local environmental initiatives including the Great Eastern Ranges biodiversity corridor (BIOLINK), Land for Wildlife program, Indian Minor Project, National Tree Day.
    • Over 35,000 native plants planted and 280 ha of bushland regenerated.
    • 14.5km of river-side vegetation regenerated or improved to manage erosion, remove weeds and enhance water quality.
    • Recruitment of 50 private properties into Land for Wildlife which amounts to 356 ha of private land being managed for Wildlife Conservation.
    • Development of the community nursery in conjunction with the Hawkesbury Nepean Catchment Management Authority (HNCMA) and Sydney Catchment Authority (SCA) to grow and supply provenance plants (local genetic stock) for planting at bushcare sites, local schools and for community events.
    • Numerous community activities including Schools Environment Day, World Wetlands Day, World Environment Day. Supporting local schools in environmental activities.
    • Supporting local sustainability initiatives including Southern Highlands Harvest, Fridge buyback, Penrose Sustainability Festival.

    For details on current and future planned programs of work refer to the Wingecarribee Environment Strategy 2010-2015 and Environment Levy Projects information.

    How is the Community involved in the choice of projects funded by the Environment Levy?

    An outstanding feature of the Environment Levy is that many community groups have worked in tandem with Council on numerous projects from commencement to completion.

    The community has had significant involvement in the planning process for Environment Levy funded projects which includes the appointment of community representatives to the Environment and Sustainability committee, chaired by Councillor Larry Whipper. The committee oversees the Environment Levy program.

    Council has actively encouraged the community to embrace the philosophy and implementation of the Environment levy by making information readily available and by promoting the Environment Levy using local media. (Link to media stories)

    The community highlighted the high value they place on our natural environment during the consultation process for Wingecarribee 2031- Our Future Our Choice- Community Strategic Plan >>>>>LINK>>>>

    This document, endorsed by Council in December 2010, represents the visions, aspirations, goals, priorities and challenges for our community into the future. The document was developed using a variety of processes which encouraged a range of community members to express their opinions. Feedback obtained during this community consultation process has been used to develop the Wingecarribee Environment Strategy 2010-2015 <<<LINK>>>> and is being used to help shape future environmental projects.

    How much money did the Council receive from the Levy last year?

    In the 2010-11 financial year the Environment Levy raised $ 891,091.05 and spent $746,509 on Environmental Projects throughout the year. The majority of unspent budget resulted from Councils staff restructure, which left some positions vacant for a portion of the year. Wages that were budgeted for were unspent. The flow-on effect from positions vacant resulted in some project delays. All carried over funds remain in the Environment Levy program and have already been allocated to works to be conducted in the next few years including the implementation of weed management plans and work on roadside reserves.

    Is Council planning to introduce increases in rates and charges for other reasons over the next few years?

    In NSW any rate increases are regulated by IPART (Independent Pricing & Regulatory Tribunal). Every year rates across NSW are subject to 'rate pegging'. Rate pegging is the allowable rate increase approved by IPART, to make allowances for the rising cost of living. The rate pegged increase for 2011/2012 was 2.8%. It has not been more than 3.6 % over the last 10 years.

    A council may increase their income by more than the rate peg percentage by applying for a 'special variation'. The Environment Levy is one such special variation. These can only occur after approval by IPART.

    While there are no other set increases in rates and charges planned in the immediate year, Council does foreshadow two areas where increases could be possible.

    Council is considering asking the public if they want a new domestic green waste collection service. This proposed service would be an additional charge for those residents that already have kerbside waste pickup services.

    Any new charge from the normal rate pegging requires a thorough and open community consultation process. Therefore, you will be consulted and informed well in advance of any green waste service charges being implemented.

    It is also probable that there will be an increase in sewer charges for those properties currently paying a sewer access charge. This increase is due to significant capital costs incurred by Council in recent years upgrading facilities such as the Bowral and Bundanoon sewerage treatment plants and the future costs associated with the construction of a new sewerage scheme at Robertson.

    To give an indication of the impact or the above scenarios, Council has modeled the likely future total rates and charges. In this modeling Council has assumed an increase in Sewer charges of $60 in 2012/13 & $60 in 2013/14. Again for modeling purposes Council has also made an assumption that a domestic green waste service charge of around $125 may be introduced in 2012/13. These figures and timeframes for implementation are estimates only. For a summary of this modeling refer to "Impacts of Environment Levy".

    Why can’t the funds from the IRS (Infrastructure Recovery Strategy) funds be used for environmental works?

    Funds created under a special rate variation must be used solely for the defined purpose it was approved for. The current IRS fund was first created in 2003/4 for the maintenance and renewal of Council's existing infrastructure, and therefore cannot be used to pay for any projects other than these.

    How many people are employed by the Environment Levy Funds?

    The following positions are funded by the current Environment Levy to carry out environmental projects and on-ground works for the shire. These positions amount to around 68% of the 2011-12 Levy budget with the remainder spent on contractors, consultants and materials.

    • Natural Resource Projects Coordinator
    • Natural Resource Project Officer- Community Support
    • Natural Resource Project Officer- events and education
    • Sustainability Project Officer
    • 2 X Bushcare Team leaders (one position currently being filled)
    • 2 X Bush regenerators

    The Environment Levy also partly funds the Parks and Open Space Coordinator and Bushland Project Officer positions.

    Why can’t Council fund environmental work out of our normal rates?

    The Environment Levy is used to carry out environmental works and projects that go beyond council's base responsibilities and funding capabilities.

    Councils rates are used to fund a vast array of services for the community including road maintenance, kerb and guttering, footpaths, drainage, bridges, parks, gardens, sporting fields, swimming pools, public health administration, bushfire prevention, libraries, community facilities, noxious weed eradication, services to the aged and youth, bus shelters, traffic management, tourism and much more.

    Our shire is unique in that we have extensive natural assets to manage including around 130km of waterways and approx 2,500 hectares of Council owned/managed passive open space (includes natural areas, parks, gardens and ancillary open space) which equates to 54 hectares per 1000 people in the shire.

    Council also manages approximately 260 hectares of Council owned/managed active open space which equates to approximately 5.6 hectares per 1000 people.

    These figures are well above the 1.62 hectares of passive open space and the 1.21 hectares of active open space per 1000 people, historically used as standards for planning.

    The large expanses of open space contribute to the shires unique character, having a series of villages connected by rural lands and bushland.

    While Council does fund many core environmental responsibilities from its general rates, it needs the extra funds generated by the Environment Levy if it is to continue to protect the shire's rich biodiversity, manage and adapt to current and future environmental challenges, plus maintain all the other Council services.

    What is Council doing to cut costs and save money?

    Within the last 2 years Council has implemented a variety of programs to reduce our spending and add value to the services that are paid for by your rates and charges.

    These include:

    • Approximately $320K pa reduction in labour and wage costs
    • Organisational restructure has resulted in a flatter structure which has provided more efficient and flexible work practices as well as more responsive services to our community.
    • Investment in technological improvements to reduce operating expenses
    • Creation of internal legal function to reduce Council's overall legal costs
    • Rationalisation of underperforming assets e.g. decommissioning of the Vertical Compost Unit and sale of non-productive Council land.
    • Training and development program of staff to increase individual and team productivity

    I am a rural Landholder, what does the Levy do for me?

    Current Levy funds are spent maintaining biodiversity and healthy ecosystems in the shire. A healthy, balanced ecosystem can contribute to the productivity of farms and agricultural ecosystems keeping pest species in check, preventing erosion, maintaining healthy soils and clean waterways.

    While Council's general funds pay for the control of noxious weeds, Environment Levy funds are used to control the spread of environmental weeds, therefore reducing weed seed spread onto private lands. Weeds impact on rural lands by reducing agricultural productivity, contaminating produce and poisoning livestock.

    The Levy currently funds a vegetation conservation incentive program. Rural landholders may be eligible for financial incentives to carry out rehabilitation works that will conserve endangered native vegetation, protect waterways and prevent erosion. Council staff funded through the Environment Levy are available to assess properties for their eligibility.

    They are also available to provide technical advice to landholders on natural resource initiatives and issues, plus provide access to information and workshops run by council and other agencies including the Hawkesbury Nepean Catchment Management Authority.

    I live in a village/town, what does the Levy do for me?

    The Environment Levy programs have been designed to ensure the shire's bushland areas are well maintained. The enhanced quality of our bushland areas also provides habitat for our native birds and animals and makes this shire a good place to live and visit.

    The healthy environment in our shire encourages tourism and passive recreation, resulting in broader economic benefits.

    The Environment Levy funds enable Council to hold educational events for our school children such as the Schools Environment Day, as well as educational events for the general population (i.e., Threatened Species Day, World Wetlands Day). It also supports activities organized by other agencies and local educational events including the Hawkesbury Nepean Catchment Management Authority and the Penrose Sustainability Festival.

    What happens if Councils application of the Environment Levy is unsuccessful?

    Independent Pricing & Regulatory Tribunal (IPART) assessed numerous applications from other Councils last year. Not all Councils were successful with their applications. Some Councils were given much less than they requested, levies for shorter periods of time, a lower rate, or no levy at all.

    Council has a number of options it would consider if its application was unsuccessful or only partially renewed including:

    • another application the following year
    • significant reduction in services which would be funded from the rates collected
    • reduction in other services and facilities to fund environmental programs
    • complete cessation of environmental works

    If I support the Environment Levy, how can I be sure the funds raised will be spent on environmental projects?

    At the ordinary meeting of Wingecarribee Shire Council, held 8 November 2011, it was resolved "THAT Council will ensure that any rates collected as a result of the Environment Levy Special Rate Variation will be accounted for and reported separately in its annual report and that key indicators and progress against targets will be reported in the State of Environment Report for as long as the rate variation exists."

    IPART's conditions for approval of the special variation will include the requirement for Council to adequately report on the program of expenditure proposed as well as the outcomes achieved as a result of the Levy.

    What is IPART?

    IPART is the Independent Pricing and Regulatory Tribunal and was established by the NSW Government in 1992. It is an independent body that oversees regulation of the water, gas, electricity and public transport industries in New South Wales. IPART took over the role of determining Local Government special variation applications in 2011.

    Is Council required to do environmental work?

    From a statutory point of view, the charter of a local Council in NSW includes the requirement for a Council to "properly manage, develop, protect, restore, enhance and conserve the environment of the area for which it is responsible in a manner which is consistent with and promotes the principles of Ecological Sustainable Development principles".

    With this fairly high level definition, there is scope for a council to decide to commit to varying levels of service of natural asset management. The level of service that has been provided to our community over the last 10 years has only been able to be achieved through the existence of an Environment Levy.