During the Council Meeting held on 20 April 2021 I formally voted against the proposed increase to residential rates, which is consistent with my voting against the rate increase last year. Given the hardship many residents, businesses and community groups are experiencing during the pandemic, I cannot in good conscience support a rate hike. I am firmly of the view now is the time we should be supporting families and individuals, not increasing rates, fees and charges. I also acknowledge the struggles of local residents on fixed or reduced incomes and people who are underemployed and that other expenses such as gas, water, electricity insurance and food continue to rise.
It is important to note that residential rates in Hobsons Bay will effectively be increasing by an average of 3.5%, and for many other residents the increase will be more than this. This is because the council increased rates by 2% last year (which I also opposed) but provided ratepayers with a once-off rebate to offset the increase. As I predicted last year, this rate increase will now be applied in the 2021-22 budget along with an additional 1.5% as per the Victorian Government approved rate cap for 2021-22.
I support most of the Capital Works Program 2021-22, but cannot support the rate hike, particularly with council’s projected $27.38 million surplus for 2021-22. This is a summary direct from the published council budget:
The following graphics from the proposed council budget show the increases proposed to average rates when compared to last year. In addition to the increase in the residential rate, it’s important to also note the increase to the Waste Charges which are payable on top of the general rates.
It is a sad fact that council rates – essentially a property tax – is not applied consistently across Victoria or even Melbourne. A ratepayer would pay much less in rates for a property worth $1 million in Brighton compared with a $1 million property in Altona Meadows. How is this fair? Rates in Hobsons Bay are one of the highest in Victoria’s 79 councils, so not applying a rate increase in 2020-21 and 21-22 is more like a rate adjustment.
Some residents have concerns about how the council will pay for future capital works if the rates don’t increase. My view is that the council must live within its means, and that like many households and businesses we have to tighten our belts a little as a result of the pandemic. Not applying the 3.5% rate hike will not result in a disaster for our existing or future budget. It’s just a small adjustment. Council does not need to be greedy or treat residents as cash cows.
So what can residents do about this?
I urge every resident or business owner to visit the following page on the Council website to read the budget and make a submission to the council before Sunday 23 May 2021:
Phone: 1300 179 944
The Proposed Annual Budget 2021-22 and Rating Strategy are scheduled to be considered at the Council Meeting from 7pm on Tuesday 29 June 2021.
What if you are experiencing financial hardship?
If you are experiencing financial hardship and are struggling to pay your rates, pleas contact the council to access the Financial Hardship Policy. It includes provisions for rate deferrals and waivers, and I hope it will be easy to access. Please contact the council or me directly if you want more information about that.
I also respectfully acknowledge Crs Grima and Kellander who also voted against the rate rise.