‘Pub test’ needed to stop wasted legal costs
By Ben Bell
IN RESPONSE to a direct question last month from a member of the public, the Shire President stated firmly and without hesitation that all future annual rate increases in Toodyay will be capped at 2.5 per cent per year for at least the next decade.
This is great news for our community.
To have the most senior public official in Toodyay set in stone the absolute maximum your rates can rise this year, next year, and every following year until at least 2029 is indeed progress and I applaud him for taking this position.Read more
Likewise, this statement by the Shire President represents the strongest signal yet that the cycle of massive, and some may suggest, unjustified annual rate hikes by the shire appears to be over.
This, however, is only half the story.
While the Shire President capped the maximum amount your rates may rise going forward, he left the door wide open for the council to pursue a strategy of minimising the annual rate increases that the shire can impose on you, with the ultimate goal of course being a zero per cent increase.
A zero per cent increase in rates … that’s fantasy you say.
Last year’s rate rise unspent
Perhaps, but it should be remembered that every cent of your hard-earned cash that the shire took from you last year courtesy of that highly contentious rate rise is still sitting idle – unspent and unallocated – in the shire’s bank account.
That’s right, if the shire had not increased your rates last year, you would have had a few more dollars in your pocket and the shire and the services it provides would not have been negatively affected in any way whatsoever.
Therefore, just as I said repeatedly last year, anyone undertaking an objective review of the shire’s forward budget would likely come to the same conclusion as me – that the shire does not have an income problem but, instead, has a spending problem.
Consequently, I firmly believe that the shire can ostensibly freeze your rates this year, without it having any adverse effect on the shire’s long-term financial viability or on the ability of the shire to provide services to the community.
How to cut rates, boost spending
IN FACT, you just may find that it is possible to minimise any increase in your rates this year (and in future years too) and at the same time increase the amount the shire spends on community services going forward.
How, I hear you say?
Well, there are numerous examples where, in my opinion, the shire has probably not spent your rate money to best effect.
One area is the shire’s apparent desire to pursue expensive and often drawn-out legal action against tourists and members of the Toodyay community that have little, if any, perceived merit.
Take a recent case where the shire spent more than $11,000 in legal fees chasing up a $100 fine it issued to a local Toodyay business.
Who spends $11,000 to collect a $100 fine? Would you?
Could you honestly justify spending more than $10,000 in legal fees to get only one hundred dollars back, noting that you don’t get the amount you spent on legal fees back even if you win the case?
Unfortunately for you as a Toodyay ratepayer (after all, it is your money that is ultimately being used to fund these legal actions against fellow community members) this is not an isolated case.
Earlier this year, the shire spent almost $6000 chasing up a $60 parking fine from an oversees visitor despite the fact that the tourist had agreed to pay the fine from the outset.
$30,000 spent for nothing
Another $30,000 was spent dragging a Toodyay local through court only to have the magistrate throw the shire’s entire case out.
The list continues …
I guess we all thought that the shire may have been a little hesitant when it comes to potentially wasting money on legal action after racking up more than half a million dollars in legal bills in the unsuccessful pursuit of an ex-shire CEO.
Unfortunately, recent events suggest that this may not be the case.
Now I am not suggesting for a moment that the shire shouldn’t issue fines.
Nor am I suggesting that its shouldn’t chase down payment of outstanding fines.
I would, however, submit that it may be beneficial for the ratepayers of Toodyay if a reality check was installed somewhere in the process – a ‘pub test’ so to speak.
Would you spend $11,000 to get $100, or $6000 to get $60? I somehow doubt it.
Yet, as ratepayers and the people funding the shire’s legal actions, that is how your money is being spent.
Spend more on community, less on lawyers
PERHAPS the council should play more of an oversight role in regard to shire-initiated court action against any Toodyay community member to ensure any such legal action is both warranted and justified on cost/benefit grounds.
Why? Because while the final figures are yet to come in, it is feasible that the shire may spend more on suing local Toodyay community members than it will spend on funding community events.
Obviously this is far from ideal because the more money the shire gives lawyers, the less it has available to invest in public infrastructure and community activities.
There are plenty of other examples within the current year’s accounts that suggest significant cost savings are possible in the shire’s budget.
And how realistic is a zero per cent rate rise this year?
All it takes is for each councillor to identify about $20,000 worth of unjustified spending in the coming 2019/20 budget, and presto, no need for a rate rise this year.
My contribution to this saving?
Delete the lawyer’s phone number from the shire’s speed dial.