This letter is hoping to clarify some of the facts around the South Gippsland Council’s decision to impose a rate rise of 30 per cent per annum for the annual fees at the Crown Land caravan park in Yanakie.
Due to the lack of communication and details being receiving from the council relating to changes to the park, the Yanakie Caravan Park annuals appointed a committee to communicate on their behalf.
There were many issues raised by the committee at the first meeting in May 2014, but one of the key things was the magnitude of the rate rise.
Prior to the meeting the committee had undertaken a benchmarking exercise where they took into account similar locations, identified amenities such as running water and sullage points to the sites, amenities blocks, pools, tennis courts etc. As any robust benchmarking study it was designed to compare apples with apples.
During the meeting with the council, when asked about the rate rise, the council explained that they had undertaken a benchmarking exercise and that the new rates were consistent with their findings.
The committee tabled their benchmarking results, which demonstrated the opposite.
The council then admitted “We did not take services into consideration”.
During the meeting they were immovable to the point of arrogance on reviewing this point.
Apparently they do not understand that their approach does not qualify as a benchmarking exercise!
Currently there is still no evidence to support the justification for a 30 per cent rate rise!
It became evident during the meeting that the council was not aware of the facilities at Yanakie, they were unaware that annuals have either set up their own water tanks to get water to their vans, or they manually track water from the amenities block to their vans.
An example of one of the parks used in the committee’s benchmarking study is the Shallow Inlet Caravan Park; they offer similar facilities to Yanakie plus running water to all sites and a tennis court.
This is a commercially run enterprise where annuals pay a fee of approximately $3,010 per annum and they expect to return a profit on this operation.
Yanakie Caravan Park has lesser facilities no running water to sites, no tennis courts and the council is imposing a 30 per cent increase taking to a minimum of $3880 per annum per annual.
The ‘improvements’ they have made to justify this raise include:
• Upgrading the fire infrastructure (as they are required to do),
• Resurfacing the ‘still gravel roads’ at a cost communicated by the council of in the vicinity of $100,000 (and in the process removed the speed bumps that contributed to the safety in the park).
• Re-purposing an old timber fishing shack (3 x 6) and now are telling us we have a camp kitchen. Seriously!
The council also stated in discussions with the committee “the previous structure of the site fees provided no scope to reinvest in park improvements”.
However, a detailed tender submitted to the council by the previous operators scoped plans for significant investment and improvements with minimal fee increases of approximately 10 per cent.
In 2007 the South Gippsland Council proposed allocating approximately $250,000 to Yanakie Caravan Park for a new toilet block and upgrading a recreation room.
On August 28, 2013 (no action had been taken relating to the previous improvements) the South Gippsland Council meeting voted to reallocate the “caravan reserve fund” (consisting of $397,477.00 which had by then been assigned to the construction of a new toilet block at the Waratah Bay Caravan Park) to assist in funding the set up costs of the two caravan parks (Yanakie and Long Jetty).
This became necessary when the council ‘chose to cancel’ the tender process they had commenced for the next contract to run the park.
The Lessees, who were then forced to leave the park, began removing their assets.
The council, had to reallocate the funds that had been committed to Waratah Bay toilet block, to purchase the assets from the Lessees to enable them to have dwellings to hire. (It should be noted Return on that investment would be very low, as even in the summer months, occupancy of those cabins are quite low on weekends and almost non-existent during the week).
In the 2014 budget documents the South Gippsland council has a Reserve Fund set aside of $1,356,522 for the Crown Land Caravan Parks.
Why is this not the money being used to replace the deteriorated Waratah Bay toilet block? Or fund improvements at Yanakie?
The consequences of what appears to be an unprofessional approach to benchmarking, reinforces the lack of confidence, trust and transparency in how council are operating in relation to this whole acquisition.
Ratepayers are not only having money spent in investments that appear questionable at best, there appears to be little transparency for the reason for these decisions and no one is being held accountable for the consequences of these on both park annuals and ratepayers.
In 2013 the mayor of the South Gippsland Council stated to ratepayers “I don’t ask you to trust us I ask you to measure us”.
At a recent meeting of annuals at the Yanakie Caravan Park, it is evident that they are supporting moving forward with legal action to challenge the punitive approach by the South Gippsland Council in relation to changes being imposed.
Looking back after 18 months, perhaps it’s time for the ratepayers to start measuring council’s performance, by having access to just how much this is all costing them and influencing the quality of decisions that are driving poor outcomes.
Deidre Nelson, Yanakie Caravan Park Annual
A poor measure at caravan parks