RATEPAYERS turned out in force at a public forum to urge Mundaring Shire to find other ways to make savings rather than reduce services valued by the community.
Mt Helena and Mundaring ratepayers groups organised the forum on Monday night to gauge public feeling on cuts to services identified by the Shire executive and councillors.
Residents and ratepayers have until April 18 to complete an online survey of the services under threat or obtain a copy of the rates and services proposal from the Shire administration centre and libraries.
In order to restrict the rate increase to 3 per cent for 2017-18, the Shire and councillors must find savings of $1.2 million.
Forum organisers from Mt Helena and Mundaring residents and ratepayers associations said the overwhelming concern at the meeting was the loss of services, facilities and maintenance across the Shire.
Mt Helena group president Joan Quinn said the meeting was positive apart from one heckler, who refused to leave, and people had the freedom of debate with a panel of five councillors including Shire President David Lavell.
Also present were the region’s newly-elected MLAs Jessica Shaw, Matthew Hughes and Barry Urban.
“Their presence was invaluable as they learnt about the impact of State Government policies on the Shire budget and they promised to bring these issues to the relevant ministers,” Ms Quinn said.
“Another major concern was the council’s perceived failure to examine areas where staffing and administration costs could be reduced,” she said.
People wanted to know of other options to reduce costs and questioned why no other options were proposed.
“Cr Lynn Fisher admitted the process to identify potential cuts was back to front and the council should have consulted with the community before drawing up the rates and services proposal,” Ms Quinn said.
Emotions ran high over the possibility of seeing community-built halls demolished and recreational facilities closed.
Ms Quinn said a written record of the meeting and the questions and answers would be available to the Shire.
Kara Powell, of Rates Mundaring, said several accountants at the meeting suggested councillors examine the Shire’s $3.5 million in annual leave that increases every time staff wages increase each year.
“The Shire’s $5.5 million office upgrade in 2013 was also mentioned and the $1.78 million to be spent this year on plant and equipment,” she said.
Ms Powell commended those councillors who attended the meeting, listened to the community’s concerns and answered questions on the spot.
“It was great to be able to have a debate compared to the two-minute time slot allocated to members of the public at council meetings.
“You could interact with councillors and have a two-way conversation,” she said.
Following the meeting, Cr Lavell said the Shire was not advised of suggestions from the public raised at the meeting, but was undertaking a community engagement process.
“All suggestions included in that feedback will be considered by council as part of its deliberations,” he said.
Council will provide direction on the service cuts proposal at a workshop on April 27 after considering community feedback from a telephone survey and the ‘Have Your Say’ survey.
Cr Lavell said Shire staff would subsequently prepare the corporate business plan, long-term financial plan and annual budget for a council meeting no later than July.
Following the meeting, Hills Gazette spoke to Labor politicians Jessica Shaw and Matthew Hughes.
Mr Hughes said residents suggested local government could be more vigorous in the way it looks at administration costs rather reduce services.
He said residents did not raise the issue of rates during his election campaign however, Ms Shaw said in her electorate rates had been a hot topic.
“People are concerned about how their ratepayer dollars are being spent and are very passionate about protecting our Hills way of life and supporting our local communities,” she said.
“As people tighten their own belts, they understand that the Shire needs to do the same, if we’re to see downward pressure on rates.”