MILDURA councillors have again voted to hit ratepayers with the maximum rate bill increase allowed by the State Government’s rates cap.
The average base rate will go up 1.75 per cent after the 2022-23 budget was adopted at last week’s meeting 7-2, with councillors Ian Arney and Troy Bailey voting against.
On the same night, a majority also voted to adopt a longer term financial plan that assumed rates would continue to rise in line with the Fair Go cap, which is reassessed by the government each year based on inflation.
Councils must apply to the government for an exemption to go over the cap.
Some of those who voted in favour of the measures spoke about the need to lobby higher tiers of government for changes to how services are funded.
Deputy Mayor Jason Modica said there had been “cost shifting” at the other levels and reiterated a push for federal assistance grants to return to 1 per cent of the Federal Budget.
But Cr Bailey said the council was cost shifting onto struggling local households.
He said rising crime and family violence rates were examples of the pressures being faced in the community.
“There are times where you might need to say ‘maybe we should tighten our belts too’,” he said.
Cr Jodi Reynolds responded by saying any proposal against increasing rates needed to also detail which services would be cut.
Cr Stefano de Pieri said if services were cut to avoid a rates increase, those who already lived comfortably would benefit and the poor would be punished.
Mildura Mayor Liam Wood told the meeting the carve up of funds between different tiers of government was a broad issue.
Having returned from the Australian Local Government general assembly, Cr Wood said rates couldn’t be spoken about in simplistic terms.
“There are 537 councils all saying the same thing,” he said.
“There were 130 motions put forward … and I guarantee pretty much every one of them talks about the wrong distribution of funds.”
Mildura’s average rates bill in 2021-22 was $2166, while similar councils averaged $1902 and all councils statewide were $1799, according to the Know Your Council website.
Because the 1.75 per cent figure is an average, rates for some properties could go up by much more.
However, with the Reserve Bank currently tracking inflation at 5.1 per cent, the increase may be less than other rising costs being faced by the community.
Cr Ian Arney said his rates bill had gone up 90 per cent in 12 years, driven by a property value increases.
“There seems to be an assumption that just because we have a value increase or because we have to deal with (inflation), people have the capacity to meet higher rates, and I find that astounding,” Cr Arney said.
“Yes, I understand that we need to maintain services, but at some stage, we will not be able to.”
Cr Helen Healy said with such a large service area to maintain, the council would go backwards if it didn’t increase rates along with the inflation rate.
After the vote, Cr Wood said the budget, which funds 100 essential services as well as developing and improving community services, was the result of more than 12 months’ work.
“It was this work, listening to our community, that has really formed the foundations of the budget,” Cr Wood said.
“It’s also the result of months of work by our finance team, which has the challenging task each year of balancing the need to keep any rate increase to an absolute minimum, while ensuring council is able to continue to provide services for our community.
“This budget is also about making sure we’re able to improve community facilities and services, and able to realise new projects, all of which are essential not only for our community’s wellbeing, but to ensure our region continues to grow and prosper.”
During 2022-23, $49.7 million will be spent on capital works projects, which would include $17.2 million on buildings.
That pool included funds for the second stage of the Mildura Sporting Precinct, an Irymple Kindergarten extension and upgrades at Lake Cullulleraine Community Complex.
The capital works budget also contained $11.5 million for roads, $4.4 million for drainage and $3.3 million for parks, open spaces and streetscapes.
Overall $154.4 million was set to be spent, with youth, children and family services was allocated $7.6 million, community safety, health and wellbeing $4.1 million and customer services $3.8 million.
A small operating surplus of $8000 was forecast.