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What can Strathbogie Shire ratepayers afford?

A look at the council's latest budget.

CHALPAT SONTI April 30, 2014 3:06am

Stage two of the Avenel Recreation Reserve project will cost $100 000.


It wasn’t a surprise but the public reaction to a proposed seven per cent rate increase in Strathbogie Shire could yet have a say in determining how much more ratepayers will have to fork out.

The council voted last week to put the draft budget out for public comment (see story in this week’s Telegraph) and the rate rise is in line with that flagged in each of the past two budgets.

So what does it contain? There are a few things locally — the second stage of the Avenel Recreation Reserve upgrade ($100000), a $70000 retention dam in Nagambie and $40000 for stormwater and foundation improvements to the Avenel War Memorial Hall among others.

The latter two are part of a $8.54 million capital works program, which itself includes $724000 for projects carried over from this financial year. Of this, about 60 per cent, or $5.25 million, will come from ratepayers, the rest from external grants.

It wouldn’t take a genius to work out early that the Nagambie Main Street project would be delayed, and when it progresses much further still looks up in the air — external funding is crucial and it is a state election year so anything is possible. But big-ticket items should be scrutinised in the present environment — they are hard to justify without state or federal grants.

The council is keen to point out that about 40 per cent of the rate increase is for infrastructure renewal, and long-suffering residents who have had to put up with deteriorating infrastructure for years will have little argument with that. The council is sticking to its knitting.

But it also has to tread a fine balancing line between keeping what it’s got going and ratepayers capacity to pay. Cr Robin Weatherald claimed Strathbogie Shire ratepayers paid the highest rates in the state. Whether that is so or not, the rates are clearly out of whack with those neighbouring areas. A $300000 house in Nagambie costs about $1000 more a year in rates than a similar property in Mitchell Shire, for example. There was the famous comparison with similar rates being paid by mansions in Toorak.

The area which should come under most scrutiny by concerned ratepayers is the 60 per cent or so of the rates rise that has to pay for the increasing cost of council operations.

This is the obvious area to look for savings, but even then it is easier said than done. Councils use the excuse of cost-shifting by state and federal governments ad nauseam, but there is little doubt that the burden has slowly but surely transferred to that most captive of tax-payers, the ratepayer.

All we can ask for is that the council, our elected representatives, and indeed ourselves, keep the closest of eyes on the operational spending. Council budgets, and Strtahbogie is not alone, are notorious for bearing little resemblance to the actual figures a year later, and we all get the feeling that we’ve heard the same excuses before. For good reason.

Local government is, as governments go, by far the most open and transparent of governments but the price cannot be unsustainable increases in rates. Sooner or later something has to give. Indications of the shire’s sustainability should include that ability of residents to keep funding rate increases — which for the record are slated at six per cent in each of the following three years.

It’s not easy being in local government. But it’s not easy being in many jobs. And much of the captive ratepayer base is doing it tough. All the spin in the world doesn’t mask the fact that Nagambie, for example, is still feeling its way post-Bypass and any economic benefit is likely to be some way off. And the ratepayer base isn’t growing in Avenel.

The Telegraph urges every concerned Strathbogie Shire ratepayer to have their say on this draft budget. It’s an opportunity you don’t get with state or federal ones and you should make the most of it. Almost everyone has an idea on how to keep rates down and this is the time to air them.

Otherwise one day you could well end up with a whopping bill you’ll have no idea how to pay. And nobody wants that.

Disclosure: The writer is a Strathbogie Shire ratepayer.

FOR MORE DETAILS ON THE BUDGET, SEE THIS WEEK’S TELEGRAPH

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