Pressure keeps rising

RATEPAYERS in the City of Rockingham are facing the prospect of a significant rates rise for the seventh successive year.

Councillors will vote at next Tuesday’s council meeting on whether or not to endorse a 9.8 per cent gross rental valuation (GRV) residential rate rise after the 2015/16 financial year rating methodology was approved by four votes to one at the corporate and community development committee earlier this week.

The City’s business plan, which was adopted last month, indicated the need to generate $71.33 million in rates in the coming financial year. As the City relies almost exclusively on council rates to raise revenue, it was left with little alternative than to plan another rise.

The minimum rate on all GRV properties will rise 6.52 cents in the dollar from $949 to $1043.

Councillor Joy Stewart was the lone voice of opposition to rises and said the City could not “keep putting rates up so much more than CPI year after year”.

“Good budgeting means cutting expenses; we should adopt a budget we can afford and work with that without hurting ratepayers too much,” she said.

Crs Leigh Liley, Barry Sammels, Matthew Whitfield and Justin Smith all supported the rate rises on the basis that the City was growing and needed new infrastructure and the only way to pay for it was implementing rates increases.

“The low lending levels we can access at the moment allows us to bring forward a lot of projects, which is what the community wants,” Cr Whitfield said.

“My view is the rise is absolutely acceptable… we have to keep looking ahead.”

Mayor Sammels said he “didn’t know how much more” the City could cut from its budget to ease pressure on ratepayers and as much as he would like to keep rates down, the rise was required.

“When you look at (the City’s) business plan, the (infrastructure projects) are all necessities,” he said.

“We’re stuck between a rock and a hard place. I’d like to keep rates down too but there’s infrastructure required and we all want that infrastructure brought forward; every councillor has at least one important project they want brought forward.”

Cr Smith said The city was in a “no win situation” and there would be ratepayer discontent from ratepayers “if we put it up only 1 per cent, if we reduced it or we do nothing”.

“If we look at the big picture and we don’t build some of this infrastructure we’re going to face other big issues,” he said, alluding to issues such as crime and disaffected youth,” Cr Smith said.

“I know pensioners and every day normal households are struggling at the moment but nearly 97 per cent of total rates levied is through households. We haven’t got a lot of diversity for generating income.”

City of Rockingham chief executive Andrew Hammond echoed Cr Smith’s words and said other metropolitan cities with large industrial areas didn’t have to rely on revenue from residential rates as much as Rockingham.

“Rate revenue from industrial areas is fantastic, but (these) are the cards we’ve been dealt,” Mr Hammond he said.

“We hope East Rockingham industrial area will develop in coming years and rate revenue will take a burden off residential rates.

“The City of Swan has roughly the same population as Rockingham but generates $125 million revenue and our rate revenue is $65 million. We are running on an absolute shoestring.”

He also said cutting money from the budget to ease rate rises had an exponential impact in following years, and he couldn’t realistically do that without significantly cutting staff or getting rid of planned programs and infrastructure.