Inner West Independent

The Inner West Mayor owes $15,000 to council: Should we be allowed to know?

Darcy Byrne

Inner West Mayor Darcy Byrne speaking at Marrickville Town Hall. Photo: Facebook.

By ERIN MODARO

Inner West Mayor Darcy Byrne currently owes council $15,000 in unpaid rates on a Balmain property he inherited from his mother, which was first reported by the The Daily Telegraph earlier in June.

Cr Byrne told The Daily Telegraph he hasn’t paid the rates due to not being in possession of the deed, and therefore the property can’t be sold.

Public property ownership records reveal that Cr Byrne took legal action to secure the title deed to the house through filing ‘letters of administration’ in 2018. City Hub has found that the title deed to the Balmain property was transferred to Byrne on December 2 2020.

As this information conflicts with Cr Byrne’s previous statements on his ownership of the property, City Hub reached out to the Mayor for comment.

Cr Byrne repeated his claims from The Daily Telegraph, stating that he has “been trying unsuccessfully to obtain the deeds to her house which I am still not in possession of”.

Councillors are required to disclose any pecuniary interests to council when they are elected, as well as annually when serving council. Previously these disclosures were shown on the Inner West Council website for each Councillor.

City Hub has found that the most recent public disclosure for Cr Byrne was in 2019, when he disclosed the Balmain house as a financial interest for the period of June 2018 to June 2019.

However, the Balmain property’s council rates remain unpaid, with Cr Byrne stating that he has begun a “payment plan” to pay down the debt and interest when the property is sold.

“Hit Job” against Mayor for revealing debts

There has been public debate about whether the information originally revealed by The Daily Telegraph was necessary for public interest, with several commenters on a local Inner West Facebook group referring to the news as a “hit job”.

One commenter said the article was “a pretty low blow to attack the mayor on an issue regarding his deceased parents”.

But previous Director of the Australian Centre for Independent Journalism, and former Senior ABC reporter Tom Morton, told City Hub that the Inner West Mayor has a responsibility to register financial interests.

“The property in question is plainly a substantial financial interest” Morton said.

“If someone is a public figure then they must expect to be subject to public scrutiny.”

In respect to Cr Byrne’s position as leader of council as Mayor, Morton said that “the more senior a public appointment, the greater the level of accountability the public should be able to expect”.

Inner West Councillor John Stamolis says that other Councillors have been asking questions about “why their Mayor does not pay rates on his property which has been vacant for several years”.

Cr Stamolis agrees the public should know that “the rules which apply to them for payment of rates also apply to their elected representatives”.

“Leaders of government, whether Prime Minister, Premier, Mayor or ordinary elected official know very well that there is intense scrutiny on them.”

“Families should be off limits” Mayor says

Cr Byrne said that the matter is private, saying that his payment plan to pay down the debt is “personal and private and protected by the privacy act”.

“People’s families should be off limits, especially deceased parents” Cr Byrne said.

Payment plans on unpaid council rates can be approved through financial ‘hardship’ programs provided at the discretion of councils. Cr Byrne has made no mention of a hardship claim, and there are currently no other public policies from the Inner West Council stating procedures on how to pay rate debt.

Cr Byrne said that his payment plan is “normal council process”.

Balmain properties jump in value over 5 years

When Cr Byrne does sell the property, he will likely receive more than what the property was valued at when he inherited it in 2017.

Balmain has seen a significant increase in median housing prices in alignment with trends across Sydney, with other properties near Cr Byrne’s valued at $3 million and $4.8 million.

The average cost of properties in Balmain has risen by 23.8% in the last 5 years.

Cr Stamolis said that housing affordability across Sydney is a worsening issue, stating that families in Western Sydney are seeing their “housing costs escalate”.

“In the Inner West, housing affordability is a critical issue and people are doing it tough.”

Cr Byrne was penalised for non-disclosure of conflicts of interest to council in 2021. He was docked 3 months pay after the NSW Civil and Administrative Tribunal convicted him of breaches to the NSW Local Government code of conduct.

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