Petition urges rethink on rural living rate

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RESIDENTS pushing for the withdrawal of the contentious rural living rate have sent a 295-signature petition to Mornington Peninsula Shire Council.

The increase, which adds about $900 to rate bills, was adopted unanimously by councillors when it was introduced last October.

The residents claim the 20 per cent rate hike levied on the owners of 724 green wedge properties of two hectares or less is a “cash grab”. (“No cash grab in green wedge rates” The News 14/10/19).

The shire’s chief financial officer Bulent Oz said smaller property owners gained greater value than the general ratepayer from programs and policies protecting the green wedge and their rural residential amenity and, as a result, should pay more for the privilege of living there.

About 40 residents turned up at Red Hill Mechanics Hall for that month’s community meeting to voice their concerns to former mayor Cr David Gill and CEO John Baker.

Paul Whitaker, of Red Hill, said residents were “shocked” at the size of the rate rise. Thirty-year resident Sandra Miller initially thought there “must have been a mistake” when she opened her recent rates’ notice. “The council has not been transparent in the introduction of this,” she said at the time.

“This 20 per cent increase on top of our already sizeable rates is completely unfair.”

The residents now want the council to devise policies to survey, audit, interview and assess all properties in the green wedge, then implement a balanced approach with the rating system taking account of their individual levels of contribution to the green wedge.

Cr Gill defended the rating decision saying the state government-enforced rate cap of 2.5 per cent applied to the total shire rate income, with individual rate notices varying according to yearly valuations. “Special rating categories are offered to farmers who received a 65 per cent rate dispensation because of the benefit they bring in protecting the green wedge from insensitive development.”

“There is also the potential for suitable properties to apply for a rural conservation rate of minus 25 per cent if works are approved that benefit the green wedge.”

Cr Hugh Fraser said affected residents “gained greater value than the general ratepayer from the programs and policies which protect the green wedge and their rural residential amenity”.

The higher rates paid for living within the green wedge would go towards reducing rates charged to general ratepayers and the owners of larger green wedge properties, he said.

The council voted to receive and note the petition and referred it to officers for action, or to report back to council.

First published in the Southern Peninsula News – 5 May 2020

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