Shire under pressure to lower rates


MORNINGTON Peninsula Shire is under pressure to cut its rates as the state government promises to force councils to justify any increases above the rate of inflation.

Councils will be required to send their budgets to the Essential Services Commission for permission to raise rates above inflation under Labor’s new policy.

The shire’s 2015-16 budget is well under way. Officers are assembling the data on which our rates and charges will be struck – under the experienced financial eye of new shire CEO Carl Cowie.

For the first time in perhaps a decade, those who put their views annually to the shire on what the budget should achieve have a discernible spring in their step, expecting their suggestions to be taken more seriously than in the recent past.

Shire dismissal of community bud­get submissions has festered. In one recent year officers had finished the final budget draft before the deadline for submissions expired, deeply angering many residents who found they had toiled for no purpose on their contributions.

This year’s budget process is the first this millennium to be overseen by a new chief executive. The shire is again encouraging ordinary ratepayers to have an input, including at a meeting on Wednesday 11 February.

First topic in most submissions is, inevitably, rates. The shire’s own policy has for years been rises of no more than local government’s version of CPI plus 2 per cent, but it almost never adheres to this figure.

Notoriously, the shire has for years used the municipal charge, now stand­ing at $180 a property flat charge, as a “phantom” rise. Last year a move to lift it by a further $10 was defeated.

Perhaps as notoriously, the shire has regularly omitted the charge when announcing the “rate” rise, under­stating the figure by up to 2 per cent.

Last year’s rate-in-the-dollar rise was 5.9 per cent (omitting the municipal charge), 18 per cent higher than the shire’s own forecast of 5 per cent.

Mornington Peninsula Ratepayers’ and Residents’ Association is preparing its arguments that rates have risen unsustainably.

“The shire’s rate increases over the decade show little concern for those in the low socio-economic bracket who are least able to pay in these difficult economic times,” MPRRA president Dr Alan Nelsen said.

MPRRA president Dr Alan Nelsen said rates in the shire have gone up:

- Three times the increase in the Con­su­mer Price Index.

- More than double Municipal Asso­ciation of Victoria’s estimate of the actual rise in costs to councils.

- Three times the rise in wages.

- Four times the rise in pensions.

“Further rises, especially in the muni­cipal charge and the likes of rubbish tip fees, impact heavily on our poor and elderly because the rises are flat charges,” he said.

“This is dreadfully inequitable. Efforts should be made to progressively lower the municipal charge to less than $100 and spread the ensuing cost burden to those better able to pay.

“Last year’s decision not to raise the charge would have meant a $2 million income shortfall, but a plan to borrow that sum was found not to be necessary.

“The municipal charge has risen 463 per cent in the past 15 years. This must stop.”

The residents’ association calculates that of the 40 items the Australian Bureau of Statistics uses to predict the increase in household expenditures, only water and sewerage, and elec­tri­city have increased more than council rates and charges

“The accompanying council rates ‘barometer’ shows rate increases are out of proportion by any measure. Council and its officers should be dismayed by their performance,” Dr Nelsen states in the submission.

On reining in costs, the association again points to the heavy cost burden of Pelican Park aquatic centre in Hastings – about $8 million in a decade for a facility predicted to “possibly break even” over those 10 years.

It calculates the shire could save sub­stantial sums by appointing a pro­fessional manager to the aquatic and leisure centre. “Excuses [for not doing so] are woeful and totally opposite to those claimed by other sections of the shire who maintain the council is a leader in outsourcing services,” Dr Nelsen said.

Other savings the association is urging on the shire include:

- A task force to seek shire staff sug­gestions on running the organisation more efficiently.

- Producing simplified monthly finan­cial reports, with a report quarterly rather than monthly.

- Cutting shire magazine Peninsula­Wide from four to three editions a year.

- Producing realistic four-year strate­gic plans. “The current unrealistic plans are a waste of money as they are not adhered to; for example, the predicted rate increases in the plans.”

- Investigating the Safer Local Roads Program to see if the “purported” $65 million savings could be used to cut rates.

- Investigating handing back respon­sibility for Rosebud foreshore to Parks Victoria, a saving of about $500,000 a year.


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