Public comments on rates ignored

Public comments on rates ignored

Keysbrook resident Coralie Parkins is afraid she may be rated off the land her family has owned since 1926. Photograph — Matt Devlin.
The advertisement in The Examiner on May 12, which called for submissions that the council later rejected.

The Shire of Serpentine Jarrahdale has failed to allow public comment on proposed rate increases as required under the Local Government Act.

Last month the shire proposed a five per cent rate increase and on May 12 it advertised a ‘notice of intention to raise differential rates’ in The Examiner.

The notice included all differential rating categories and an invitation to lodge written submissions.

The differential rating categories were residential, residential vacant, commercial/industrial, rural intensive farming and rural living.

A total of 394 submissions were lodged with the shire, 11 of which were made by individuals with the remaining submitted via two petitions.

The council considered the submissions on June 9 but in the report presented to councillors each submission was met with the response that the ‘ratepayers are not residents within the rating categories under consideration, residential vacant land or intensive farmland, which is what council are seeking comments for in the differential rating strategy 2016-17 year’.

According to the Local Government Act 1995, before imposing any differential general or minimum payment applying to a differential rate category a local government is required to give public notice and invite public submissions.

Crucially the local government is ‘required to consider any submissions received before imposing the proposed rate’.

Last week The Examiner asked shire president John Erren whether the general five per cent rate increase was considered by council at the June meeting and when submissions regarding that increase would be considered.

Mr Erren said the meeting was only to discuss ‘intensive farming’ and ‘vacant residential’ ratings.

Bizarrely he also stated that ‘submissions would not be considered for other rating categories because differential rates are not proposed for any other categories’.

However ‘differential rates’ refers to the rates each type of property, such as ‘residential’ or ‘commercial’ must pay with a rate proposed for all property categories.

Keysbrook resident Coralie Parkin, who made an individual submission opposing the increase, felt disenfranchised after having her comments dismissed.

Ms Parkin’s family has owned the farm where she lives since 1926.

Last year she paid more than $21,000 in rates to the shire and a further $13,866 to the Shire of Murray, which is where the southern portion of her land is situated.

She said even with the farmland concession she believed she was at risk of being ‘rated off’ the land.

“All our concerns have been dismissed by this council,” she said.

“As I’ve been to most shire meetings this year, just observing, I’m disgusted in the whole undemocratic part of the council.

“I think this has set an inappropriate and unacceptable precedent which must be addressed.”

Cardup resident Karina Baker, who organised petitions and a rally against the rate rise, said it was horrible to find out that all submissions were considered ‘null and void’.

“The general public were given no right to comment – it’s a real disappointment,” she said.

Local Government Minister and Member for Darling Range Tony Simpson criticised the shire’s handling of the increase.

“As the local member it is disappointing that submissions by residents in the general residential category have not been taken into consideration and I would encourage the shire to engage more closely with its ratepayers,” he said.

“I would also encourage all ratepayers to visit the Liberal National Government’s MyCouncil website to determine if their local government is providing value for money and to bring their concerns directly to the attention of their local councillor.”