Do Murraylands property owners really pay more in council rates than their cousins in the rich Adelaide suburb of Burnside?
Not quite, but it is close.
The Standard has compared the property rates charged by South Australia's 68 local government authorities, as well as analysing property values and minimum rates in each district to gain a picture of where local ratepayers sit on a state rankings table.
The Mid Murray and Murray Bridge councils crack the top 10 in terms of the rate in the dollar charged against property owners, though the districts at the top of the table – Kimba and Port Augusta – both charge more than four times as much.
Once property values are taken into account and the rates bill for an average house is calculated, most Murraylands councils fall into the middle of the rankings, with expected bills of between $1080, at Tailem Bend, and $1780, at Mannum, per year.
An average Karoonda resident can expect to pay less in property rates than residents anywhere else in the state – about $687.
A Burnside resident would pay about $1800, and property owners in Port Augusta, Ceduna or Whyalla upwards of $3500.
‘It’s absolutely out of control’
Coorong Ratepayers Action Group acting president Sandy Douglas the favourable comparisons all well and good, but the extra charges levied by her council placed a much greater cost burden on residents – especially single pensioners and other low income earners.
"It's absolutely out of control," she said.
"The $350 fixed charge (component of a rates bill) ... $300 for rubbish, $605 for CWMS (waste water management) ... we've got people who've done the figures on it and it's one of the highest."
Those extra charges were what had to be brought down, she said, to make a difference to residents; though a lower property rate would help, too.
"I'd personally like to see rate capping looked at more seriously," she said.
"It's no good rushing into it, but it needs to be looked at again.
"There's got to to be something to stop these ongoing increases.
"No-one gets pay rises every year to cover all these costs."
A proposed cap on property rate increases was defeated in state parliament in August.
Auditor defends revenue-raising
The Murray Bridge council is justified in raising as much money as it does through property rates, its chief auditor has suggested.
Peter Brass, the independent chair of a committee which audits the council's financial management, gave an upbeat presentation to councillors on Monday night.
"I think there's exciting stuff going on in this community," he said.
"Somebody has to pay for it.
"If the numbers didn't match, if you're making money and not spending it somewhere, we'd ask questions; but this is a very well-run council."
He said metropolitan councils would typically provide far greater services for a comparable rate in the dollar, but noted that their populations were much larger.
"If you look at your resourcing and what they've got to pay for it, the actual amount of money coming in, they can afford that," he said.
What the Murray Bridge council had to do was engage the community and make sure ratepayers' money was being spent on what residents wanted.
Mayor Brenton Lewis mirrored Mr Brass' remarks.
"As long as we can justify the spend, I don't think we've got a major problem," he said.
Mr Brass had been pressed on the issue by retiring Councillor Theo Weinmann and Tyson Matthews, who is seeking another term.
Cr Weinmann used part of his farewell speech to the council to highlight his belief that the rate in the dollar property owners were charged needed to be lowered.
Rates make up 64.4 per cent of the council’s revenue.