“MY RATES in Rosebud were $1100-a-year but now I’m paying $2500 here on a house that’s only 60 per cent of its value. It’s outrageous!” said one South Gippsland ratepayer.
Resident anger was rising at a meeting of the South Gippsland Action Group (SGAG) upstairs at a meeting in the Leongatha RSL last Tuesday night.
“My rates have gone up by 16 per cent this year,” said another Poowong resident.
“How can they put it up by that much?”
“I’m on Newstart. How do I pay $4000 in rates?” asked, Ian Symmons another Poowong resident.
“There’s $28 million going to wages,” said David Amor, SGAG President (actually it’s $24.8 million, down by $2.3m this year).
“Why are we spending $7 million on the rail trail? Surely, there are some savings there,” said another.
These and many other concerns were voiced at the meeting which attracted dozens more disgruntled local residents than usual after the recent arrival of rate notices.
“What can we do?” they asked the two SGAG officers, who chaired the meeting, David Amor and secretary of the group Lindsay Love.
Mr Love recommended the circulation of a strongly worded petition, calling for a reduction in rates next year.
That may well go ahead after a vote in support but many people at the meeting want rate relief now.
Former mayor Don Hill, who attended the meeting as an observer, advised that the only way for individuals to pursue a reduction in rates now was by challenging the new Capital Improved Value (CIV) of their property which was the basis for the amount of rates levied.
“At the June meeting, we were going to vote in a 3 per cent rate reduction and we were going to reduce the rate burden by 10 per cent over the following three years,” claimed Mr Hill.
“That was on our agenda before we were dismissed,” he said.
“There was a 2.5 per cent rise in rate revenue in the budget but some people here have seen a 10 per cent rise while others may even have seen a reduction, which is why they’re not here tonight.
“We identified on council how to minimise the variation (caused by relative changes in property valuations) but it didn’t go through however.
“We were aware that some rates could go up by 17% or more and we tried to put through methods to reduce that variation.”
He claimed that one of the reasons why residential rates in some areas had gone up by 10%, 15% or more was because commercial properties went down in value, meaning business owners were paying less by comparison.
“We had a method for dealing with that,” he said.
Other issues were discussed, SGAG secretary Lindsay Love picking up a statement by Korumburra resident Marie Gerard-Staton, that the people of the shire couldn’t wait for a review of the rates hardship policy until the next council was in place in 2021.
“We want to include in the petition, a request for the Administrators to bring that forward to this year.”
Treasurer of the group, Gus Blaauw, claimed the shire had a $32.6 million warchest, originally to build its Taj Mahal, but alleging that the shire’s new administrators were setting about spending the money on questionable projects, including $7 million to the rail trail. He said the money would be better returned to ratepayers as a rate reduction.
He also queried why the ratepayers were paying for “370 staff members”. (Effective full time positions were 270 last financial year and 251 this year at a cost of $26.2 million compared to rates/charges of $43.9 million).
There were also claims made that the new shire administrators weren’t as open and transparent as the Minister promised they would be, that they were restricting access by SGAG to information from council and also that the council chair Julie Eisenbise had changed her inclusive approach after the appointment of the two new administrators Christian Zahra and Rick Brown.
But by far, it was the high level of rates and on-going increases about the State Government cap of 2.5 per cent that was causing the most heat and it’s not likely to dissipate anytime soon with the SGAG public promising petitions and recommending ratepayers object to their valuation if they didn’t like the level of rates they were paying.