Shire’s budget ‘aims to mislead’- Ratepayer group

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A RATEPAYER group has accused Mornington Peninsula Shire of “deli­berately” adopting a budget strategy for 2013-14 “designed to mislead the public”.

The shire proposes a 5.9 per cent lift in the general rate in the dollar. This does not include the 12.5 per cent hike to a major compulsory charge, the municipal charge.

This gives “the appearance of the rate rise being less than 6 per cent”, the Mornington Peninsula Ratepayers’ and Residents’ Association says.

Calculations show that increasing the municipal charge by $20 to $180 will bring the rates rise to 7.7 per cent.

In a letter to the shire, the group describes the shire move as “a cunning marketing ploy” intended to mask the real increase in rates. Rates notices refer to “rates and charges”, not simply the “rate in the dollar”.

“By stating the rise in this manner, the council knows full well that the media and community perceive the in­crease in rates is 5.9 per cent,” the association said.

“We assert that council increased the municipal charge by $20 so it would give the appearance of the rate rise being less than 6 per cent.

“The impact of this ploy is that council is disadvantaging those in the community who are less able to pay.

“The council is more concerned about its image than its impact on the low socio-economic group in our commu­nity.”

The letter contains a table showing how the municipal charge has rocketed by a whopping 463 per cent since 2000-01, from $32 to the $180 now proposed. It has effectively become a de facto additional rate impost.

The charge is one of the state’s high­est. It compares with wealthy Bayside’s $131, zero in Boroondara, $61.67 in Brimbank and Ararat Rural City’s $80. Some councils strive to keep the charge around $30-40.

Closer to home, the City of Casey did not impose a municipal charge in the current year. Kingston is proposing a $100 charge in 2013-14 and Frankston charged $126.30 in the current year.

The ratepayer group’s letter draws attention to a shire statement that “council’s past practices and decisions regarding rating are underpinned by equitable distribution of the rate burden across the community according to assessment of property value”.

The association says the statement is simply not true.

“Over the past 10 or so years the shire has shifted more of the rate burden to those in the lower socio-economic group by significantly raising the municipal charge in comparison to the increase in the general rate.

“The table shows how the municipal charge has outrageously increased.”

The association’s letter is a submission to the shire’s strategic plan for 2013-17. It criticises the shire’s approach to the plan: “Based on previous history, it is our opinion that the shire’s strategic plans provide very little value because they are ignored by council.

“To demonstrate our point, we draw the shire’s attention to the comparison of the actual rate increases that have occurred to those that have been argued as being necessary in previous strategic plans.

“The actual increase in rates … approved in subsequent budgets is 30 per cent more than shown in the plans.”

The association says the only years when actual rates match strategic plan increases are when “the strategic plan and budget are produced simultaneously”.

“The last strategic plan (2009-13) shows the shire has increased its take from ratepayers (from rates and charges) by about $40 million more than outlined in the strategic plan.”

The shire’s stated aim is to increase rates by no more each year than inflation plus 2 per cent. It almost always substantially exceeds this figure, partly because of its addiction to debt – an addiction councillors have recently forced its management to confront.

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