SHIRE of Mundaring residents opposed to a 4 per cent rate rise are calling on councillors to freeze rates, fees and charges for the next five years.
Swan Chamber of Commerce (SCC) and Mundaring ratepayers association representatives spoke against the proposed rate increase at a special council meeting on Tuesday last week.
Councillors voted 5-4 in favour of Councillor Bob Perk’s alternative motion asking the Shire’s finance staff to trim costs and reduce rates by a further 1 per cent.
More than 400 residents have joined the Rates Mundaring Facebook page, petitioning councillors and Local Government Minister Tony Simpson to stop rates rising above the Consumer Price Index.
Semi-retired director and business consultant John Bell, of Mt Helena, spoke on behalf of the SCC at the recent council meeting.
He said SCC members’ feedback showed council charges had become intolerable, with people on fixed incomes unable to afford to heat their homes.
“Small businesses are laying off people and closing down because the rates are an extra impost in an already challenging environment,” he said.
He said data at mycouncil.com suggested employee overheads were “the low hanging fruit” in the Shire.
The Shire employs more than 200 people and Mr Bell said a 10 per cent saving in staff costs of $1.9 million could eliminate the need for any rate increase.
“The average cost of staff (in the Shire of Mundaring) has gone from just over a $60,000 average to $91,000 five years later,” he said.
“The draft budget suggested a further increase of staff costs to more than $19 million, close to a further 4.5 per cent increase over the 2015-16 figures,” he said.
The SCC has called on Shire councillors to protect the interests of the community and rein in an “out of control” local authority.
“It’s very clear the executive has fallen short and the council has not looked after our interests,” Mr Bell said.
He said the structure of four executive directors and support assistants at the ‘relatively small Shire’ was the same as councils with four to five times the number of residents.
Mundaring Ratepayers and Residents Association spokesman Peter Booth also challenged the Shire to reduce staff costs.
He said rate increases had exceeded those of the City of Swan and the Shire of Kalamunda in recent years, with residents effectively paying a compound rate.
Representatives from Darlington Residents and Ratepayers Associations questioned a proposal to outlay $400,000 for an external review of the Shire and raised concern over a $5.5 million loan, incurring ongoing interest of $4500, to develop council offices.
Shire of Mundaring chief executive Jonathan Throssell responded to deputations made at the meeting on the Shire’s website.
He said the Shire’s annual report included the required disclosures of information about employees’ salaries.
“The report discloses the number of employees entitled to an annual salary of $100,000 or more and the number of those employees with an annual salary entitlement that falls within each band of $10,000 over $100,000,” he said.
“The draft corporate business plan, as presented to the special council meeting of June 28, provided information regarding grant and fee funded positions.
“In 2016/17, it is proposed that there are 37.2 such positions from a total of 210.18 FTE.”
He said vehicle costs, superannuation, worker’s compensation and allowances were included under employee costs and no performance bonuses were paid.
The expected pay rise for Shire employees for 2016-2017 is 3.25 per cent, as per an EBA agreement.
Council employee pay scales are determined through collective agreements based on relevant awards.
Shire councillors will consider the revised annual budget, corporate business and long-term financial plans on Tuesday, July 26.
Pictured: Mundaring Shire President David Lavell. His council will have to deliberate again over the Shire’s budget.