Need to save, not pave, paradise



By David Gill

MORNINGTON Peninsula Shire is trying to avoid the state government’s rate cap plan by using special charge schemes.

These are schemes where landowners pay what amounts to de facto rate increases for those unfortunate enough to be caught up in almost any kind of public works by councils.

As revealed by David Harrison last week (“Rate cap may not quell cash demands”, The News 27/10/15), it is not surprising that there is little information about special charge schemes on the shire’s website.

The shire is implementing a special charge concrete footpath scheme for every ratepayer in Somers even though the works involve just a few streets.

Until they received a formal notification many ratepayers were unaware that such a user pays scheme was intended, bringing with it a backdoor rate rise of up to $1700.

The shire did no earlier notification but left publicity to the pro-active proponent of the scheme, the Somers Residents’ Association (SRA).

There was no high level of community engagement so often talked about by our council.

The SRA explained the scheme in its newsletters mailed by the council as:

  • Comprising narrow, meandering informal paths;
  • Not concrete but exposed aggregate (concrete with the normal pebbles in concrete not troweled under);
  • Council and the federal government were the only income sources mentioned;
  • Minimum vegetation removal and low visual effect.

The SRA then conducted two surveys based on this information and presented the shire with enough evidence of support for the scheme for it to accept the proposal.

The 5.5 kilometre long path will be up to two metres wide and cost $1.5 million.

I believe it will forever alter the quiet coastal village charm of Somers.

Questions of fairness remain.

Why did the shire not directly poll ratepayers?

Why didn’t the council not tell us that the majority could stop a special charge scheme before the declaration of a levy?

I have met with shire CEO Carl Cowie and discussed the role of the SRA and shire officers. He has said that he will look into transparency issues in the lead up to the formal notice sent out to all ratepayers.

A new group called the Somers Village Community Association (SVCA) has been formed because its members think the SRA is so out of touch that it wants to “pave paradise” (with apologies to Joni Mitchell).

The Somers Village Community Association offers an alternative and is dedicated to being inclusive, transparent and connected to the community.

The SCVA hopes that Somers will be able to retain its coastal village charm as a peaceful haven and not become just another suburb.

As a former resident of Somers and member of the Somers foreshore committee until recently, I believe the SRA requires reform.

I wonder which coastal village or peninsula town will be next to wake up to a letter announcing the start of another user pays special charge scheme that could lift their rates by thousands of dollars?

The shire is developing a coastal village strategy and has put on hold some roadside works until it is finalised.

Surely the concrete footpath scheme for Somers – a coastal village – should also await this important policy.

First published in the Western Port News – 3 November 2015


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