‘Budget a mess, facing ratepayer mutiny’
Toodyay Shire President Brian Rayner (pictured left): “Rates rise equals cost of two packets of cigarettes.”
By Michael Sinclair-Jones
THE TOODYAY Shire Council has yet to explain to ratepayers why it needs to raise rates by 2.2 per cent after being told by staff in June that no increase was needed.
This year’s rates rise is more than double the increase in Perth’s cost of living and follows last year’s council decision to raise rates by 50 per cent for hundreds of rural residential property owners.Read more
A fully costed recommendation by Shire CEO Stan Scott not to raise this year’s rates was presented to councillors at their June meeting.
It included provision for a new swimming pool and other projects in the shire’s yet-to-be-finalised Draft Strategic Community Plan, and covered other anticipated running costs such as water, sewerage, electricity and gas.
The recommendation for no increase was moved by new Cr Bill Manning and seconded by fellow new Cr Craig Brook but was voted down 5-2, with Shire President Rayner on approved leave overseas and Cr Greenway absent for personal reasons.
Councillors voted instead for Mr Scott’s fully costed alternative recommendation to raise rates by 0.9 per cent – the same as Perth inflation over the past year.
This was carried 4-3 with Shire Deputy President Therese Chitty, audit committee chair Rob Welburn and Crs Judy Dow and Eric Twine in favour, and Crs Manning, Brook and Ben Bell against.
Cr Dow said she had “been through the figures quite thoroughly and I am confident we can come in at 0.9 per cent”.
However, the decision lacked a required absolute majority of five of the council’s nine members and was declared invalid.
With President Rayner back in the chair in July and all councillors present, Mr Scott recommended two more fully costed rate increases – the 0.9 per cent carried over from June and a new one for 2.2 per cent.
The June amount was not debated because the new figure of 2.2 per cent took precedence in the meeting agenda and was passed 5-4 after Crs Chitty, Welburn, Dow and Twine joined President Rayner to abandon their support for 0.9 per cent a month earlier.
No supporting documents were presented to support the higher increase and there was nothing in the agenda or minutes to explain why it was necessary.
Cr Welburn said higher rates were needed to boost shire reserves for long-term planning.
“The 2.2 per cent rate increase is the only figure that is workable,” he said.
“These are small increases and if we don’t do it now, we will have to in future.”
The new rate (actually 3.4 per cent for 900 rural residential ratepayers) was advertised for public comment and resulted in nine submissions and a 2000-signature petition calling on councillors to reinstate the June figure of 0.9 per cent or less.
The CEO presented the council’s August meeting with a new ‘draft long term financial plan’, which Crs Chitty and Welburn said justified the 2.2 per cent rate rise.
“It was a light bulb moment for me after the original rates vote,” Cr Chitty said.
“We need 2.2 per cent to achieve long-term benefits and provide long-term security for ratepayers.”
Cr Manning – a former State Government commercial lawyer – questioned how councillors could adopt a new long-term financial plan when they had yet to finalise an overall strategic community plan for the next 10 years.
He said the council needed to adopt a new asset management plan and a workforce management plan before it could know how much money was needed.
“Why on earth are we looking at a long-term financial management plan now when we haven’t yet done a full strategic review or finalised a strategic community plan?” he said.
“Shouldn’t we have all these documents in place first before agreeing to a long-term financial management plan?”
“Without those documents, I am at a loss to understand why we are looking at this now when the other plans have yet to be adopted.
“The only reason I can see for pushing this through is to justify the budget.
“The document we have in front of us is not a long-term financial plan at all – it’s just a schedule of costs.
“The community is completely confused as to what’s going on, and so am I.
“This is why we are in such a mess with the budget and facing a mutiny from ratepayers.
“I came into this budget process halfway through and it’s been an eye-opener.
“It has not been handled well, we don’t have all the documents in place and there are conflicting figures.
“It is remarkable that we can have a zero per cent rate increase in June and then a month later it is 2.2 per cent.
“I am still at a loss to understand where the 2.2 per cent came from – it seems to have been plucked out of the air.
“You can increase revenue or you can cut costs and I don’t think there has been a hard enough effort by this administration to cut costs,” Cr Manning said.
President Rayner ended the debate by saying he was concerned at a lack of information but believed there was enough for a long-term financial plan to project what rates needed to be generated.
A motion to endorse the 10-year long-term financial plan was moved by Cr Welburn, seconded by Cr Dow.
It was passed 6-3, with Crs Manning, Brook and Bell asking that their dissenting votes be recorded.