MORNINGTON Peninsula Beach Box Association, which lost a Supreme Court challenge against Mornington Peninsula Shire, now wants the shire to pay its own legal bills.
The action taken by the association is understood to have cost each side at least $80,000, an amount that is believed to be being sought by the shire from the association.
The shire will not disclose how much it wants the association to pay.
Legal and governance manager Amanda Sapolu said it was “not appropriate to disclose” details about the negotiations” as the issue was “still before the court”.
“Councillors have been briefed throughout the matter and are supportive of the approach, however the shire’s executive officers are responsible for the management of legal matters, including settlement discussions and negotiations.”
Negotiations over the costs between the shire and the association resumed last week after being delayed by shire officers taking leave during the school holidays.
In August, the Victorian Supreme Court ruled that beach box owners on the peninsula must pay waste disposal charges.
The finding was seen as a landmark case likely to affect various other charges levied by municipalities throughout Victoria (“Beach box owners lose waste case” The News 9/8/21).
Beach box association president Mark Davis said it seemed “quite unreasonable” for his group to have to pay the shire’s legal costs as the action was taken “for the clarification of a law”.
Mr Davis said the beach box association did not have the resources of the shire and compared the shire’s bid to recoup costs to a “David and Goliath” situation.
Mr Davis told The News that paying the shire’s legal bill could force the association to “fold – our viability is at stake”.
“A lot of our members can’t afford to pay it,” he said.
The court action was launched in 2018 after members became “increasingly aggravated” over two years by the shire refusing to deal with their complaint.
However, the association had not appreciated the statewide implications of the law it was questioning.
Beach box owners pay $50 a year to be members of the association plus $25 compulsory public liability insurance.
Beach boxes are located at Mount Eliza, 14; Mornington 156; Mount Martha 252; Dromana 242; Rosebud 260; Rye 115; Sorrento 11; and Portsea 82.
Mr Davis said the shire was the only municipality on Port Phillip to charge beach boxes for waste disposal.
The fee is at $338 in this year’s shire budget and was $242 in 2018 when the legal challenge started.
Beach box owners also pay the shire an annual licence fee for having the use of publicly owned land.
The beach boxes are privately owned and can bought and sold.
When the court’s decision was announced in August, the mayor Cr Despi O’Connor said the judge was “highly critical of the case put forward by the [beach box] association and found that it failed at every point”.
“This was a significant case for council and a successful claim would have had negative consequences for all Victorian councils and seriously impacted their ability to deliver services to the community,” Cr O’Connor said.
Mr Davis said about 80 per cent of the owners of the shire’s 1250 beach boxes were members of the association.
“We’re pretty well connected state and federally and the state has indicated that it will communicate with the shire on this,” he said.
Cr David Gill said bathing box owners paid on average $30 a week “for the privilege of using an outstanding public asset for their exclusive use with the bonus of selling their licences at market value as if it were an investment property” (“‘Locals only’ rule for beach boxes” The News 2/6/20).
“My belief is that these licence fees are for a luxury item and should also be at market value.”