Sunset Strip resident Pam Maag has erected this sign in the front yard of her Galleon Crescent home, urging other property owners to vote against a proposed roads and drainage scheme. Her neighbour, Peter Dight, right, has lived at his Bermagui Crescent property for over 30 years and believes the least Bass Coast Shire Council can do is maintain Sunset Strip’s roads without slugging ratepayers with the bill. G110115
Sunset Strip residents fear massive bills for unwanted upgrades
A GROUP of Sunset Strip residents fighting to stop a planned $7.4 million special charge scheme for their estate have called on the State Government to step in and take action.
Formed last year in response to early indications that the Phillip Island estate was next on Bass Coast Shire Council’s list of areas due for an urban roads and drainage upgrade, many members of the Sunset Strip Road Watch Collective (SSRWC) have requested to remain anonymous after speaking to The Sentinel-Times.
Just before Christmas, the group penned a letter to the new Minister for Local Government, Labor’s Natalie Hutchins, requesting that a moratorium be placed on the proposed special charge scheme until a full review is conducted into the council’s latest round of community consultation.
The council is currently compiling results from a second basic questionnaire sent to over 340 Sunset Strip ratepayers in November.
The results are expected to be revealed in a report presented to councillors at the first council meeting of the year on February 18.
As noted in their letter to the minister, the SSRWC say it is an “absolute outrage” that the council has confirmed those who don’t bother to respond to the questionnaire will be counted as being in favour of the scheme, rather than not counted at all.
“Please stop this (council) nonsense of assuming those who don’t respond agree – a survey system we believe is totally undemocratic and verges on a scam,” the letter states.
“We believe (the council) is not interpreting this legislation in the spirit which was originally intended.
“This legislation needs to be amended and strengthened to stop it being abused by avaricious councils and to protect the financially vulnerable in the community.”
The group argues that there are countless reasons property owners might not respond to the survey.
Towards the top of the list is an assumption that many ratepayers might simply toss the letter out because they already replied to one questionnaire earlier in the year.
“We are also concerned about how many of these second questionnaires were actually sent out,” a SSRWC spokesperson commented.
“We have heard from several property owners who claim they never received the second survey.”
Dawn Hedges, a Galleon Crescent resident affected by the proposed scheme, says her daughter owns a subdivided property along the service road adjacent to Phillip Island Road.
“She was on a business trip overseas and had already responded ‘No’ to the first questionnaire,” Dawn explained.
“She didn’t know the second questionnaire had arrived until we’d told her.
“And although the property is subdivided with two separate titles, she has only received one letter, meaning she gets just the one vote.”
Dawn said she was concerned a large number of people could either have ignored the second questionnaire or forgotten about it with their other holiday commitments.
Forced sell off
Another Galleon Crescent resident, Pam Maag, fears she and her husband, Warren, will be forced to make a life-changing decision if councillors voted to proceed with the scheme.
“Our house will be put up for sale if this road project goes through,” Pam said.
“We wouldn’t be able to afford it on top of the rates we already pay.”
Pam and her husband moved to the property in May after inheriting the house when her father passed away.
She looks after her husband, who suffers from a spinal disability, full-time.
“Had we known we would have to pay up to $20,000 for roads before we moved here, that might have changed things,” she added.
Pam says she’s isn’t comforted by the shire’s hardship policy either, which enables payment instalments spread over a long period of time for those who qualify.
“If we did that, we will just pay more (interest) in the long run and it will get worse,” she said.
Pam’s financial concerns mirror those of many in Cape Paterson throughout 2013 and the early part of 2014, when the council controversially attempted to implement an even larger special charge scheme for that estate.
Back then, many ratepayers argued that they simply could not afford the levy on their properties, which averaged $14,000 per block.
Despite the pleas, the council’s infrastructure department moved forward with detailed design of the scheme, costing ratepayers $259,000.
The project at Cape Paterson was abandoned last April after an overwhelming number of objections were received during the formal submissions process.
As detailed in a council report from last September, $48,000 has been spent on the proposed Sunset Strip scheme over the past two financial years.
The report confirms a further $99,000 was allocated in the most recent budget.
When asked how much has been spent on the proposed scheme the report in September, council’s acting CEO, Felicity Sist, said “costs have only included staff time and postage to send the questionnaires.”
“There will also be further time to collate the questionaries and prepare a council report,” she added, without specifying an actual amount.
The second questionnaire was sent out after the shire only received a response from 56 of property owners the first time around.
Ms Sist confirmed the second questionnaire was posted to all landowners within the road and drainage upgrade boundary.
However, she was unable to comment on whether there has been an improved response rate following the second survey.
“This information will be collated and presented to council in a report in February,” she reiterated.
“We are very early on in the process.
“If council were to decide to continue, then 2015 would involve completing concept plans and presenting them to the community so they can see what the upgrade might look like, given the information we have had to date.
“The formal process would take part in 2016, with construction occurring late 2016/2017.”
Regarding overall community consultation relating to the proposed Sunset Strip scheme, Ms Sist said: “The legislation for a special charge requires only a submission process after a notice of intention to declare. Council is committed to hearing all views from the community.”
The shire’s manager of infrastructure delivery, Cohen Van der Velde, and Bass Coast Mayor, Cr Kimberley Brown, were on hand to answer questions about the scheme at a community forum hosted by the Roads Working Group of Phillip Island and San Remo on December 12.
Following Sunset Strip, the next town on the shire’s upgrade list is Pioneer Bay.
“Once a decision has been made on Sunset Strip – either to proceed to concept or not – a conversation can start with the landowners of Pioneer Bay to see if they would be interested in having their roads and drainage upgraded,” Ms Sist said.