Rate rises to average 3 per cent
Uncertainty surrounding the State Government’s finances has underscored the Shire of AugustaMargaret River’s annual budget, which was adopted this week along with rates increases averaging 3 per cent.
Projects totalling about $3.4 million and the $677,000 slated for the 2017-18 financial year through the Financial Assistance Grants program were brought forward, allowing the Shire to enter this year with a surplus of about $4 million.
At this week’s meeting, Shire president Ian Earl said 3 per cent was “about where we need to be” to allow the Shire to tackle curveballs thrown by the Government.
“The State Government — they giveth, they taketh away,” he said.
“It does pay to have good reserves, which we do have, and a good solid budget to allow for some surprises down the track.”
Capital and operating expenditure is at $60 million — up by $12 million from the previous year — while cash-backed reserves totalling $23 million have been forecast to meet challenges including the main street redevelopment and conversion of Witchliffe’s Davis Road landfill site into a regional waste transfer station.
Employee costs mark the Shire’s biggest operating expense at 41 per cent and are up 1.4 per cent on the previous year. However, there could be a slight reprieve with an amendment made by Cr Kim Hastie, who left room for the role of an economic development officer — estimated to cost ratepayers about $80,000 — to be reconsidered.
“I’m not saying withdraw it . . . I’m saying let’s sit down and review the necessity of that position,” he said.
Environmental programs received almost $500,000 and major and local events will be boosted by $135,000 and $50,500 respectively.
While the budget was presented as balanced, Cr Peter Lane questioned whether it should be considered as such.
“I regard it as a deficit budget because . . . any budget that requires borrowing to make it balance is a deficit budget,” he said.
Cr Lane said this demonstrated why rates increases were “absolutely justifiable and necessary”.