City of Stirling votes against rates freeze but will explore other options

The City of Stirling voted against a three-year rates freeze.
The City of Stirling voted against a three-year rates freeze.

RECENTLY elected Stirling councillors have tried to make good on their campaign promises by pushing for no increase to rates.

Councillors voted at last night’s meeting to consider the rates freeze as part of 2018-19 budget deliberations following intense debate that largely pitted newly elected members against longer-sitting councillors.

Cr Adam Spagnolo introduced a motion on notice seeking consideration of a three-year rates freeze because of declining property values and current economic conditions.

“A lot of our ratepayers are struggling to pay their rates,” he said.

“The time has come for us to give something back to our ratepayers.”

He said he was overwhelmed by the number of projects the City was implementing and believed it should “back off on the accelerator.”

Crs Elizabeth Re and Karlo Perkov gave their support, with the latter believing it could be done and should at least be explored.

But Cr Karen Caddy said rate setting was considered as part of budget deliberations every year and council needed to assess whether it could deliver intended projects with the revenue received.

The proposal was dismissed by Cr David Lagan, who likened it to requesting a three-year hold on his mortgage from his bank manager.

“Everyone wants to have things for free,” he said.

Several councillors noted the City’s previous “frugal” increase of 1.75 per cent and raised concerns about deciding on rates for future councils, which chief executive Stuart Jardine confirmed it could only be done on a year by year basis.

They were also worried about delivering services and maintaining and upgrading facilities.

“You can’t take away and not add as residents still need services,” Cr Stephanie Proud said.

“It won’t look so good down the track (but) it’s a big pat on the back tonight.”

The motion was lost as Crs Re, Perkov, Spagnolo and Suzanne Migdale were outvoted, and an alternative passed that council would consider not increasing rates as part of its annual budget deliberations as per the usual process.

The issue continued as Cr Migdale sought support to provide a payment arrangement option for ratepayers to make payments over two financial years and the option of a two-year abatement to residents experiencing hardship.

Cr David Boothman questioned what the abatement meant and corporate services director Ingrid Hawkins said it would need to be investigated so council voted to refer the issue to the next meeting to allow more information.

Mrs Hawkins said the City offered a range of payment options for ratepayers experiencing financial difficulty, including standard and lower instalment options.

“This allows ratepayers experiencing financial difficulty to make lower instalments for up to three months, giving them time to seek financial counselling, register with Centrelink or start work, before returning to a standard payment arrangement option,” she said.

“The City will also be implementing a direct debit option in the near future.”

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