Web_What-nextEditor Nathan Johnston

OK councils, we get it. State and federal governments are shifting responsibilities on to you and the only way you can pay for the delivery of these and existing services is to increase rates and charges. But please, spare us the spin when it comes to justifying these hikes because it’s not making us feel any better. A common form of trickery is to break down an annual total into smaller instalments – “What’s the problem with the rate increase? It’s only an extra $1.89 a week.”

Well, when you put it that way, I guess it’s much cheaper than sponsoring a child in Bangladesh. Another good excuse for a new fee is that “other councils did it first!” The South Gippsland Shire Council has introduced a green waste fee at tips “to bring us into line with other councils”; while the Bass Coast Shire Council brought in the new $200 builders’ fee for every job to pay for possible damage to public infrastructure – a charge “commonly used in other municipalities”.

Not sure what’s worse – that one or their crazy holiday home registration fee, which was your classic sledgehammer to crack a nut scenario. A few complaints about boisterous ‘schoolies’ allowed the shire to bring in a tax that all holiday rental home owners must pay. The Gold Coast City Council was recently considering introducing a charge for beach users to help fund works to stop coastal erosion. There’s an idea! If it’s good enough for the Gold Coast, let’s do it here as well. Our beaches need protection too!

Councils constantly repeat the mantra of “full cost recovery” when quizzed about the additional layers of expense they are heaping on to the community but it should not be the only consideration. Councils should also be concerned about the community’s ability to pay, whether it’s for cost shifting from other levels of government or fee for service. The other option, of course, is to find efficiencies in their own operations and for that money to be put to good use within the local community. We hear precious little spin about successes in that regard.