Residents reject rate rise in draft 2019-20 Mid Murray Council budget, councillors listen

Photo: File.
Photo: File.

Mid Murray Council has agreed to reduce a planned property rate rise after being confronted by angry residents at a public meeting.

Dozens went to Cambrai last Tuesday to protest a plan to increase rates by 3.6 per cent this year, and every year for the next 10, to dig the council out of debt.

Councillors will now limit this year's rate rise to a maximum of 2.9pc.

Mayor Dave Burgess, who recently argued against a cap on property rates, said the community's concerns had been heard.

"We understand that families, farmers and pensioners are struggling under the rising cost of living, as well as facing other pressures, including the recent drought," he said.

"While the financial sustainability of the council remains a priority for elected members and staff ... we are committed to identifying efficiencies in line with the expectations of our community."

In 23 written responses to the council's draft budget, many residents argued that they should not have to pay for what they saw as financial mismanagement by the council.

The council's debts are projected to reach $21 million within a year, an amount equivalent to its total annual revenue.

"Why are we in debt?" one resident asked.

"You want ratepayers to pay for ridiculous past expenditure which the council has allowed."

"We shouldn't have to pay a debt that council owes because they blew their budget out of the water," another said.

"I struggle as a business owner and farmer's wife as it is, we pay enough as it is, and I don't feel we get what we pay for anyway."

Many suggested the council cut employees or cancel major projects, such as the proposed upgrade of Mannum's Mary Ann Reserve, to pay off its debts.

Chief executive officer Ben Scales said all council services and operations would be up for review after the council's 2019-20 budget was finalised in July.

"As we prepare our new long-term financial plan over the next year, council and the community will need to have a conversation about the projects and services that are priorities, and where we can make savings to ensure the council reduces its level of debt and remains financially sustainable," he said.

"The balance ... is certainly a challenge, but one that our team is committed to and working towards."