Surprise 3.4 per cent rate rise splits council
A SURPRISE plan to increase shire rates by nearly four times Perth inflation for hundreds of rural residential land owners has split the Toodyay Shire Council in a 5-4 vote.Read more
Four councillors who voted for a 0.9 per cent rate rise in June changed tune last month to join Shire President Brian Rayner – who was away in June – to more than double the proposed overall increase to 2.2 per cent.
This is more than twice the Perth Consumer Price Index, which rose 0.9 per cent in the 12 months to June.
Hardest hit will be 900 land owners in rural residential subdivisions such as Morangup, Julimar, Coondle and Hoddys Well who face an actual rates hike of 3.4 per cent under shire plans to apply “differential” rates to their ‘bush lifestyle’ properties.
It follows last year’s council decision to move rural residential properties from unimproved to gross rental valuations which cost hundreds of land owners up to 50 per cent more in rates.
About 530 town properties now face a rates hike of 2.6 per cent, and about 35 business owners 2.2 per cent.
At the other end of the scale, about 180 farming properties are set to benefit from just a 0.6 per cent rate increase, which is 0.3 per cent lower than Perth inflation.
Cr Bill Manning said he would not vote for higher rates because he believed the shire had not done enough to look at cutting costs.
“We owe it to ratepayers to investigate if we can provide a reasonable surplus without having to impose rate rises,” he said.
“For example, reducing operating expenses by 2.3 per cent – leaving aside capital costs – would produce about the same budget surplus as the proposed 2.2 per cent rate increase.
“Continually increasing rates to achieve a required surplus is the easier way out.
“Cutting costs is more difficult but not impossible.”
Cr Paula Greenway also questioned whether enough had been done to cut costs.
Cr Craig Brook said he didn’t believe the council had looked at all the savings that might be possible.
“In private industry, you look at reducing expenses before increasing prices,” he said.
“We could save $18,500 by eliminating catering expenses for councillors and staff, and $15,000 could be saved by halving expenses for conferences.”
Cr Ben Bell said the council had voted the previous month for a 0.9 per cent rate rise.
“Nothing has changed since then,” he said.
“Why are we now putting more pressure on ratepayers to raise an extra $86,000?”
Cr Bell’s call for an eight per cent rates cut based on cost cuts was rejected 4-2 in April with only him and Cr Welburn in favour.
A month later, councillors voted 6-1 (Cr Bell against) for Shire CEO Stan Scott to “review” Cr Bell’s claims and publish any “factual errors” in the shire newsletter and Herald “to correct the public record”.
However, no further action resulted.
Cr Welburn, who heads the council’s audit committee, moved last month’s proposed 2.2 per cent rates rise and said it was needed to boost shire reserves for long-term planning.
“We’ve already been through cost-cutting and we can’t push back any further – 2.2 per cent is the only figure that is workable,” he said.
“We need to err on the side of caution and not pass the buck onto the future.”
President Rayner said other shires had gone as high as five per cent because they had no financial reserves.
“Ratepayers would be absolutely furious if we used up all our reserves and had to increase rates higher,” he said.
“I believe 2.2 per cent will serve us in good stead for the next 12 months.”
The shire’s proposed rate increase is advertised for public comment on Page 21 of this month’s print and digital edition of The Herald, with submissions closing at 4.30pm on Friday August 24.
The higher rates differ from a 4-3 council vote in June for a 0.9 per cent increase.
However – with President Rayner and Cr Greenway absent – the decision lacked an absolute majority vote of five of the council’s nine members and was declared invalid.
The four councillors who voted for 0.9 per cent in June – Acting-President Therese Chitty and Crs Judy Dow, Rob Welburn and Eric Twine – joined President Rayner last month to vote 5-4 for a 2.2 per cent increase.
Crs Manning, Brook, Bell and Greenway voted against the decision.