City of Busselton propose a 3.95 per cent rate hike

Image by Shutterstock.
Image by Shutterstock.

As anticipation grows with the fruition of the Busselton Margaret River Airport redevelopment, the City of Busselton remain tight lipped on how much it could cost ratepayers to offer an airline a concession.

City of Busselton director of community and commercial services Naomi Searle said it remained commercially confidential.

"The freight hub was constructed in partnership with the Federal Government which contributed 50 per cent of the total costs," she said.

"As part of this, seven lots are available for long term lease ranging in size from circa 2000 square metres to 5000m2.

"The lease rates are subject to a market valuation, however the city expects they would yield around $9/m2. Take up of the lots is anticipated as activity as the airport ramps up.

"Importantly there are significant economic benefits as a result of future industries investing in the city."

City of Busselton director of finance and corporate services Tony Nottle said they did not expect the airport to run at a loss in the 2019/2020 financial year.

"Should a profit be realised, it will be put back into the airport reserve fund," he said.

It is estimated the cost to run the Geographe Leisure Centre and Naturaliste Community Centre was $1.12 million as outlined in the draft budget.

"The city has kept staff growth to a minimum for the last few years and in 2019 /2020 only two additional permanent full time employees will be employed one of which will be a disability based role to support access and inclusion objectives and this will be part-funded through an external source.

"Staff will receive modest increases in accordance with the city's current Enterprise Bargaining Agreement which was negotiated in 2017 and to which the City is already committed.

"Councillor remuneration will increase by only 1 per cent in line with the Salary and Allowance Tribunal's 2019 determination."

Households feeling the pinch

The city's proposed rate rise of 3.95 per cent has drawn criticism from community members who are concerned about the extra cost on households already experiencing financial hardship.

The Salvation Army South West pastor Mark Schatz said they currently assisted 200 people per week in the South-West who sought help due to household commitments overwhelming their ability to manage.

Mr Schatz said any increase to living expenses such as rates and utilities could have a significant impact for those already living on a wafer thin budget with little room to move.

"For some it may mean that an essential need is sacrificed for the greater good of keeping the most important asset being a home," he said.

"Families and individuals are confronted with rising living expenses together with every day demands that present causing a conflict of what is possible and what needs to be deferred.

"These can be every day decisions about basic necessities yet something has to give which can be quite overwhelming."

Acting Local Government Minister Stephen Dawson said the WA Government encouraged local governments to show restraint in their budgeting to keep any increases as low as reasonably possible.

"It is important that local governments take the current difficult economic climate into account when setting rates," he said.

"We encourage councils to focus on ensuring the provision of important local services, without hitting households with big rate hikes.

"All local governments' situations and budget obligations are different - but I think the Busselton community would expect their local government to have focused strongly on keeping rate rises to a minimum."

Vasse MLA Libby Mettam wrote to councillors after she heard concern from community members about the proposed increase.

"Residents of the City of Busselton have consistently incurred above CPI increases to their rates," she said.

"Since 2014, the city's interest costs have increased by 423 per cent, salaries have increased by 22 per cent, an average of 5.5 per cent per annum over four years. CPI over the same period averaged under 1 per cent per annum.

"There is no doubt that people are doing it particularly tough at present with cost of living increases incurred under the McGowan government, coupled with local rate hikes.

"This year's state budget inflicted an additional $856 on household budgets. Similarly, it is unacceptable that the city rate increase is proposed at 3.95 per cen which is way above the CPI forecast."

"I urge the City of Busselton to review the proposed rate and reduce, at the very least, to one that is comparable to the CPI."

City of Busselton director of financial services Tony Nottle said the city was concerned about financial hardship for some households and it was why they council worked hard to keep rates as low as possible.

"There are also a range different payment options available and if people feel that the standard payment option is are not achievable, individual payment plans can be developed for those facing financial hardship.

"Discounts are also available for pensioners registered for a State Government rebate.

"The city offers semi-annual or annual payment options however we predict that with future changes to the Local Government Act other payment timeframes may become available.

"People facing financial hardship are welcome to contact the City's rates department on 9781 0444 to discuss personal payment plans."

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