Rate rises must not add to State’s woes
No level of government has more contact with West Australians than our local councils. Considering the cities, towns and shires control more than $40 billion in public assets, those involved in local government should have a good grasp of the mood of their communities.
After all, they need us to fund 137 councils.
They charge ratepayers more than $2.3 billion a year to run the programs that service our regions.
If you’re dealing with families across the State you’ll be acutely aware many are hurting.
Cost of living increases over three McGowan Government Budgets, falling house prices and resulting mortgage stress, and high unemployment are having demoralising impacts on too many West Australians.
So, because our local governments are in tune with their ratepayers, they should be considering only very modest increases to the annual rates notices that will soon lob in letterboxes throughout WA.
Only prudent decisions by councils on their rates for the next fiscal year will prevent even more financial pain for those already struggling under the weight of utility and transport cost increases.
Indeed, any rate hikes above the consumer price index would be yet another setback for West Australians battling to make ends meet.
However, local governments have virtually a free rein in setting budgets and rates.
As a result, in recent years there have been sharp rises in charges to ratepayers.
Last year, the City of Rockingham lifted rates 3.6 per cent, more than 31⁄2 times Perth’s then CPI of one per cent.
There is growing concern with the community about the constantly increasing size of many councils.
While there are plenty of council chief executives who say their evergrowing workforces need to be paid by higher rates collections, it is time for more financial discretion from those whose role is to serve, not dictate.
Take the City of Rockingham, in the Premier’s electorate, and its figures on the MyCouncil information portal.
Between 2013-14 and 2017-18, the council’s revenue went up $30 million, from $123 million to $153 million.
Over the same five years, its workforce went from 462 full-time equivalents to 555.
That is a 20 per cent increase. In 2016-17, the average residential rates bill in Rockingham was $1577.97.
Two years later it was $1633.95 — a rise just shy of $66.
Compounding the problem is the $868 extra in household fees and charges imposed by the Government since the 2017 State election.
Add in the upwards movement in local government rates and most families have had to find close to $950 to pay for key services. Increasing council rates payments have been a worrying issue in the community for some time.
Last year, we learnt homeowners owed more than $60 million in unpaid rates. There was $4.8 million owing to the City of Rockingham.
To reclaim the unpaid rates, some councils had seized properties, forcing out residents before selling the premises and land to recover outstanding debts.
Now the struggle in the suburbs and towns has got even tougher.
Median house prices have fallen 8.8 per cent over the past year to $436,000 (a level not experienced since April 2006), almost 15,000 WA mortgage holders are trapped in a home worth less than their loans, utility disconnections have doubled to nearly 20,000 and the State’s unemployment rate is 6.1 per cent, the second highest in the country and far worse than NSW (4.3 per cent) and Victoria (4.8 per cent).
Data release by the Australian Bureau of Statistics this month shows WA’s domestic economy is in recession and has gone backward for five quarters under the McGowan Government.
All those figures indicate the dire plight for many West Australians.
Councils exist to serve the people. So when it comes to setting rates for 2019-20, councillors need to offer some help to the community.