Mayor takes up the fight to keep down rate increases

BRIGHTON Mayor Tony Foster has continued his fight to hold down rate increases, calling on local councils that raise their charges higher than the annual rate of inflation to have to justify this to ratepayers.

 Cr Foster wrote an extensive column in the Mercury newspaper following Brighton Council’s decision to hold down its rate rise to the annual movement in the Consumer Price Index for the 23rdyear in succession.

 Following is an updated version of Mayor Foster’s Mercury column:

 

BY TONY FOSTER

DURING June, Tasmania’s local councils set their rates for the forthcoming year and the outcome revealed how effective their elected representatives and managers had been in managing the affairs of their city or municipality.

Yes, costs for councils are rising, as they are for everybody, but council rates also contribute to household costs and councils need to recognise the financial pressures confronting their ratepayers.

While it is true inflation is low, so too is the growth in average wages and as well, many Tasmanians are on fixed incomes or benefits that show little or no increase.

In such a climate, council rate increases should be no greater than the rate of inflation, that is, the rise in the Consumer Price Index (CPI). This means that taking account of cost increases, a council should have the same amount of money next financial year as it had available this year, to pay for services, infrastructure, facilities and community development.

That is not an unreasonable expectation and any council that seeks to impose rate increases higher that CPI must justify this to ratepayers.

It is worth noting that Brighton Council has already approved its budget for 2018/19, keeping its rate increase in line with the rise in the Hobart CPI of just two percent. The increase for householders amounts to $17 a year, or a little more than $1.40 a month.

This is the 23rdconsecutive year Brighton has kept it rate increase at or below the rate of inflation and Council is particularly proud of this achievement. It has been able to do this when other sources of revenue, particularly many State and Commonwealth Government grants to local government have reduced or disappeared.

Brighton’s budget has been framed after accepting a 33 percent reduction in the Council’s dividend from TasWater, a situation confronting all councils to improve TasWater’s capacity to address statewide water and sewerage infrastructure upgrades.

Rather than develop a grab-bag of spending and then determine a rate increase to fund this, Brighton’s approach is to apply CPI to the past year’s revenue and then develop the budget based on that figure.

For the past 23 years, this has enabled the Brighton Council to deliver the full range of local government services, maintain and develop existing and new infrastructure, employ talented, innovative and hard-working staff members and continue to develop the municipality as a great place to live, raise a family and increasingly, work.

It is not rocket science, but it is what ratepayers expect of their council

It’s called living within your means and it is what householders do every day of the week, every week of the year.

In fact, I would argue that no council should be increasing rates higher than the annual CPI. However, my personal view is that few adopt this approach and certainly, none have done so for anything like the 23 years achieved by Brighton.

Certainly, Brighton Council is conscious of the cost of living pressures on its community and is determined to keep our charges as low as possible. Its record is there for everyone to see.

In the five years to 2016-17, Brighton’s rates rose by a total of just six percent, well below the average of all Tasmanian councils of 14 percent, with two councils increasing their rates by 24 percent and 28 percent respectively over the same period.

It is difficult to see how this can be justified and the council aldermen, councillors and managements must be required to explain the reasons why they have imposed these increases on their ratepayers.

The reports of the Tasmanian Auditor-General consistently list Brighton as, or among the best, performing councils in the State. As well as the lowest rates, Brighton also has the lowest per capita number of employees and employee costs as a percentage of annual operating revenue at 23.1 percent is a full 10 points below the average of all councils of 33.1 percent.

As well as the efficiency of Brighton’s operations, its strong financial management, plus the success of its MicroWise business and commitment to shared services with other councils, Brighton ratepayers continue to benefit from the full range of services at the lowest possible cost.

It is an approach Brighton Council intends to maintain into the future and it’s one I believe that should be adopted by all Tasmanian councils.

 

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