More than 40 people protesting against the proposed Armidale Regional Council (ARC) 20 percent rate increase rallied outside the Guyra council chamber building on Wednesday evening.
The group stood outside the chambers and chanted throughout the council's December ordinary meeting. The protest was clearly audible to those seated within the building forcing Armidale Regional Council interim administrator Viv May to adjourn the meeting for a short break.
Earlier in the meeting, Mr May had invited the group's leader Josh Fittler to address those gathered in the public forum session, but he said he would not do so alone.
Mr Fittler told the Express that because of COVID-19 restrictions on numbers, only one representative could go inside and the group wanted two - one representing residents from Guyra and one representing those from Armidale.
"We did have someone already inside, but the COVID marshall refused to let us swap with them so we could have the two of us," he said.
Gordon Youman was the spokesperson representing the Guyra residents, and he said it was not just the rate rise he was protesting but also the amalgamation of the former Guyra and Armidale councils.
"It's about all the things that we were promised, and the things that the experts pointed out wouldn't work," Mr Youman said.
"There is a Professor Drew from the UTS in Sydney who has collected six years worth of data which has shown the diseconomy of scale resulting from these mergers, reporting an increase of 15.2 per cent in staff costs through amalgamation."
Mr Youman also said it was important for a country community to have diversity and autonomy.
"Putting aside that, what has happened to the public inquiry?," he asked.
"It's not like it was $10 that went missing - it was $11 million."
Things were no better at a state government level Mr Youman continued.
"These mergers were supposed to have saved us $20 million over 10 years - we now know it has cost us more than $1 billion and we will never get that money back," he said.
"We've got blocks of land at Black Mountain, and the rate instalment went from $84 per instalment last financial year, up to $196 for the first instalment this financial year, and that is before the proposed rate rise.
"Plus our services have gone downhill - we've got roads up here that haven't been graded for three years."
Mr Fittler said government funding could also be a problem.
"State government keeps giving us in-kind funding and council tell us that a lot of it is for new infrastructure, but even if it were free it would still cost us in depreciation each year," he said.
"The council has about 1 billion worth of assets, now if the state government keeps giving us grants for new infrastructure without giving us grants for maintenance of existing infrastructure we're just going to keep snowballing, and we'll always have a problem where we have to keep dipping deeper into our pockets."
As council staff exited the building, Mr Youman questioned ARC director of business and services Scott Macdonald on how much water the Costa Tomato farm used, what the company paid for it, and asked what had happened to the public inquiry.
This is the second time residents have taken their message to Armidale Regional Council.
They are urging councillors and staff to manage Armidale Regional Council's finances better, increase budget transparency and reassess rates to a level that better reflects incomes and economic growth in the region.