THE campaign group fighting to sink Cape Paterson’s proposed $7.1 million Special Charge Scheme made a last-ditch effort on the weekend to spread awareness about the objection process.
Over 150 angry property owners filled the town’s community hall on Saturday morning for another community meeting organised by Preserve the Cape (PtC).
The meeting came a little over a fortnight after Bass Coast Shire Council voted in favour of pushing forward with the scheme.
A 30-day window for submissions and objections is now open, allowing owners of the 469 properties affected by the scheme to have their say.
If more than 50 per cent of those affected object, the scheme will be abandoned.
If it goes ahead, residents face paying an average of $12,000 per property, with some being slugged in excess of $40,000 for double blocks.
Last Saturday, Bass Coast Mayor Neil Rankine entered the lion’s den alone.
The meeting’s chair, David Hayward, a former RMIT professor and part-time Cape Paterson resident, jokingly noted that it was to Cr Rankine’s “great credit” that he entered the building without any shields or protection.
Mr Hayward said other representatives from the council had declined their invitations.
While Cr Rankine copped the brunt of the residents’ fury once more, Professor Nick Low from PtC said the “real opponents” were not the councillors who voted in favour of the scheme at the last council meeting – it’s the shire’s infrastructure department.
“Councillors have to depend a lot on the expertise of their officers,” Prof Low explained.
“The engineers spend a lot of time designing schemes, and writing and presenting persuasive arguments for their engineering plans.”
He said this “powerful” infrastructure department, consisting of more than 100 full-time staff, had discovered “a nice litter earner to help pay their salaries”.
Prof Low was referring to the Special Charge Scheme Provisions in the Local Government Act 1989, and he believes the council has forgotten the original purpose of such provisions.
“These provisions were meant to help communities who faced real and severe problems,” he continued.
“They were meant to give communities the opportunity to help pay for roads and drains they were in dire need of.
“They were intended to be initiated collectively by the community itself.
“I believe the council has been poorly served by the infrastructure department.
“The department has carried out one third of its task with great effect: the engineering part.
“It has utterly neglected the social and environmental consequences of engineering.”
Prof Low added that the scheme’s objection process is “highly undemocratic” since affected property owners who don’t make a submission within the specified 30-day timeframe are counted as voting in favour of the scheme.
“Council’s attempt to divide and rule must be defeated,” he said.
“We all really must fill in our forms and object.”
PtC had pro-forma objection forms on hand at the meeting for ratepayers to fill out, and they asked all who were submitting an objection to council to also send a copy to the campaign group.
Cr Rankine urged those who were planning on submitting an objection to add more to their submission than a simple ‘no’.
“If you wish to object, say so but don’t leave it there, talk about how the scheme impacts you because there are a lot of things council can assess and changes can be made to the scheme,” he said.
“They could be things like (retaining) a significant tree out the front of your property.”
Cr Rankine added that roads could be removed from the scheme entirely if everyone on a particular street objects.
At the conclusion of the meeting, Prof Low raised a motion asking for the scheme to be abandoned at the March 19 council meeting.
Practically everyone in the hall raised their arms in support of the motion.
Cr Rankine pointed out that such a decision could not be made at next week’s meeting because the period for submissions and objections is still open until March 26, but “perhaps” it would be considered at the April meeting.