STUDENTS and community groups are facing higher rental charges following a rise in prices to use Mornington Peninsula Shire’s community halls and meeting rooms.
Regular hirers were invited to information sessions in November to update them on changes to conditions of hire, booking procedures and payment requirements. They were then asked to confirm their dates of hire for the next 18 months ( July 2017) but no mention was made of proposed rate increases during that time.
Billy Lids Theatre Company proprietor Annette Precht said existing hall hirers would have been entitled to assume that there would be no rate increases once they were locked in to their hall hire.
Her 50 students use Red Hill community hall for eight hours a week which, under the old arrangement, cost her $7 an hour as a community user or $560 for a 10-week term or $2240 a year.
Under the new rates arrangement, she will have to pay $10 an hour or $800 a 10-week term or $3200 a year – an increase of 70 per cent.
“That’s a lot when we are committed to July 2017,” she said. “It really hurts.”
She is concerned the higher fees may not result in improved facilities. “Will they be used to pay for hall improvements, such as better toilets and lighting?” she asked.
Red Hill community hall is classified as a secondary hall, with an outside toilet and poor lighting.
“It’s a hall with character,” Ms Precht said. “The water pipes are old and yucky but we are happy to put up with it.”
Mornington Peninsula mayor Cr Graham Pittock said the council stood behind the rate increases adopted on 1 July and had appointed a coordinator to ensure users adhered to them.
“Halls costs a lot of money and we are a user-pays society,” he said.
A strongly worded letter announcing the changes said hire fees must be paid in full four weeks in advance, or by any other date stipulated in the confirmation letter.
“Failure to pay the fees by the due date may result in the termination of the agreement for hire,” the letter stated.
State government-imposed rate capping of 2.5 per cent has put pressure on councils to earn revenue from other sources.
“We will find it hard to absorb the proposed rate increases. Hopefully we won’t have to seek an alternate venue or regrettably be forced to close the business completely,” Ms Precht said.
Shire chief operating officer Alison Leighton said hall fees for all venues were ratified by the council as a part of the annual budget process. “Historically the users of halls have updated their bookings in November/December for the following calendar year which has meant there has been an increase in fees when the council ratifies them in late June,” she said.
“This has been the process for many years. By letting customers know 18 months out, it brings them into line with the financial year enabling casual bookings to be taken for January to April prior to the end of December.”
Ms Precht said she had considered hiring another teacher and boosting classes, but this is now in jeopardy.
“We really don’t want to impose fee increases on our students,” she said. “A lot of families struggle to afford the fees already, and we have students coming from as far away as Mt Eliza, Somerville, Cape Schanck and Rye, including one triple amputee.
“These families are committed to their children’s development and we really care about them.”
Ms Leighton said a recent review of fees meant that, in many cases, fees would go down.
The shire manages 33 halls and takes about 18,000 bookings each year. “Keeping up with this demand means rates cannot cover the upkeep and maintenance costs,” Ms Leighton said.