Coorong ratepayers query council rate increases

Hefty rate increases were raised by ratepayers at October’s Coorong District Council special meeting last Tuesday.

Speaking for the Coorong Ratepayers Action Group (CRAG), Glynis Taylor presented questions and statements regarding the groups interpretation of the 2017/2018 3.2 per cent on-the-dollar rate rise.

Mrs Taylor said valuations in the council area had risen to $1.42 billion according to the Valuer-General, up $26 million from 2016, and believed it didn’t justify a 5.9pc increase calculated by CRAG.

“When added together, the 5.9 per cent differential rate increase plus the 16.6 per cent fixed charge increase, give an accumulative increase of between eight and eleven per cent,” she said. “This suggests there is a failure to effectively plan and add contingency in a volatile and unpredictable market and a failure and reluctance to cut costs.”   

She asked staff to “justify why council has chosen to penalise ratepayers with increased rates and charges as the first option and why cost-cutting measures have not been implemented or even suggested.” 

Mr Cammell responded, saying the council had been committed to cutting costs. “Council, in it’s long-term financial plan, does recognise a saving on an annual basis and does look for that opportunity,” he said. 

Mr Cammell said the council had cut above planned savings, including in staff, contractor services and procurement aspects. 

He added that the council had incurred costs in recent years where funding had been available from exterior sources previously. 

“We have had to maintain funding levels for base service outcomes, where grants used to be available, or picking up services that might been transferred from other levels of government,” he said.  

Cr Jaensch said increasing statutory requirements are one of the largest strains on councils, with the council wears up to $400,000 a year in costs from the state government that weren’t present previously.

“That’s direct rates going back to state government,” Cr Jaensch said.

Mr Cammell said a large amount of money had gone toward that and reduction of grants, all while the council had tried to maintain base service infrastructure. 

When Mrs Taylor pressed Mr Cammell about CRAG’s calculated rate increases, he did concede that, in hindsight, what was occurring might have been described poorly. 

“I have personally been looking at how other councils actually define that and some of them did do it in a lot clearer manner,” he said. “So that is an issue.”