AN error which will lead the City of Cockburn to refund $1.36 million is further proof an independent third party should be brought in to oversee rate-setting by councils, according to Local Government Minister Tony Simpson.
The City is now taking steps to refund affected property owners the money it overcharged, but the mistake came at an unfortunate time.
In August, Mr Simpson put councils on notice when he revealed he had asked his department to start dialogue with the sector about how it could keep local government rates down.
Part of that discussion was whether an independent third party, such as the Economic Regulation Authority, should have oversight of rate-setting by councils.
Mr Simpson said Cockburn’s error was very disappointing and had inconvenienced a large number of ratepayers.
“It is quite frustrating that when the City released its budget, they blamed the state government for rate increases when, in fact, their errors drove up rates for many of their ratepayers,” he said.
“This is the precise reason I have been calling for compulsory training of councillors, greater transparency and accountability and that’s why I am intent on expanding the powers of the Office of the Auditor General to include local government.”
Cockburn Mayor Logan Howlett said the City was looking to provide more rates transparency and is reviewing its budget management policy.
The review will include a strategy to incorporate service charges into the general rate charges on an ongoing basis and equalisation concessions.
The Council is also looking to create future rate notices that will display each category and the relevant dollar amounts for the rates levied on its ratepayers by the Council, the State Government and, if applicable, the Federal Government.
Cr Howlett said the move, if adopted by council, would end the blame game “once and for all”.