Report: axing of carbon tax may lead to cut in rates

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REMOVAL of the carbon tax should curb any rate rise next year, according figures drawn from the Victorian Auditor-General’s report for 2012-13.

The federal Labor government’s tax, abolished by the current federal Coalition government after it was elected in 2013, is the fourth largest driver of rate increases, the report, Rating Practices in Local Government, stated.

The three bigger items were “maintaining services/cost shifting”, “general/other costs” and the state government’s landfill levy. The report was compiled using figures supplied by Victorian councils.

Both federal and state governments “cost-shift” services on to local councils, often to achieve savings in their own budgets. Occasionally a council will seek to take over a state or federal responsibility, as Mornington Peninsula Shire did with the Rosebud foreshore in 2005, at a cost to ratepayers of up to $420,000 annually.

The end of the carbon tax as a factor in holding down Mornington Peninsula Shire’s rates next year was included in a submission to the shire from the Mornington Peninsula Ratepayers’ and Residents’ Association.

MPRRA listed nine savings measures in its submission, arguing that the shire “must carefully and wisely consider its next budget and use this as a learning experience to live within its means, as in future ̔buckets of cash’ will not be available because the new state government intends capping rates in 2016-17.

It said that “by any measure the shire’s rate increase over the last decade is outrageous”. Rates had risen:

• three times more than CPI.

• twice the estimated increase in costs incurred by local government.

• three times more than the increase in wages.

• four times the increase in pensions.

Mornington Peninsula Shire now had “the dubious record” of having the third highest increase of 40 household expenditures measured by the Australian Bureau of Statistics, MPRRA stated.

It suggested nine factors that could lead to a lower rate rise:

• Redirecting the $17.9 million “under-expenditure” on the Southern Peninsula Aquatic Centre (SPA) budgeted for 2015-16. SPA is now on hold.

• Handing over running of the loss-making Pelican Park to a professional organisation.

• Harnessing savings from removal of the carbon tax and recent lower fuel prices.

• Selling excess shire land as soon as practicable rather than waiting until the money is needed to build SPA.

• Forming an internal task force to gather staff input on how the shire could be run more efficiently.

• Publications – simplifying the monthly report by providing the written component quarterly; publishing ̔Peninsula-Wide’ twice a year; and “producing a lean four-year Council Strategic Plan”.

• Passing on to ratepayers some of the claimed $65 million savings from the Safer Local Roads Program.

• Returning the management of the Rosebud Foreshore to Parks Victoria.

• Reviewing the need for the extensive use of consultants and advisers. As reported in The News two weeks ago, these cost the shire $6.42 million in 2013-14.

Nearly 50 budget submissions were made to council. At a meeting last Wednesday about 20 submitters each made a three-minute presentation. Almost all of them had a specific request of the shire, including a boardwalk for the disabled, a CFA request for 50,000-litre water tanks, a rise in the farm rate from 35 to 80 per cent, and more screens for the crowd-pulling Rosebud film festival.

MPRRA ends its submission by repeating a past objection regarding how councillors decide the annual rates and charges increase.

“If the two councillors who are nominated to hear [budget submissions] do not have delegated authority and the full council is going to make the decisions then presentations should be made to the full council,” it states.

“The association does not understand why a complete copy of the submissions cannot be attached to the end of the [budget hearing report] rather than precis.

“Attaching the complete submissions ensures they are placed on public record. As only a small number of council agenda/budget hearing reports are required to be printed, the additional cost of printing would be more than offset by the elimination of the need for staff to précis the submissions.”

As mentioned above, the recent budget meeting effectively involved all councillors and all senior shire staff: only two councillors did not attend the meeting. It remains to be seen if all submissions are made public, as the MPRRA urges.

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