Budget sneaks in

“NOT fair” and “a sneak attack” is how some Bayswater councillors have described the city’s proposed budget.

Councillors Catherine Ehrhardt, Elli Petersen-Pik, Steven Ostaszewskyj and  Michelle Sutherland, voted against the budget at the council’s June 30 meeting, over concerns a Covid assistance measure will see owners of less valuable properties subsidising their fancier neighbours.

Like other councils Bayswater is “freezing” the amount it takes in rates this year because of coronavirus impacts, but while most councils have stuck to basing their bills on the rental value of a property, Bayswater has introduced a “concession” system.

What that means is that while other councils will still have some rates bills going up and some going down depending on how each property’s value has fared since the last valuation, everyone in Bayswater will get the same bill as last year.

Cr Petersen-Pik doesn’t think that’s fair: “I don’t consider it fair to not apply the gross rental value, and have some ratepayers essentially subsidise property owners whose rental values went up.”

Bayswater’s gross rental values have fallen 15 per cent since the last review by WA’s valuer general, which Cr Ehrhardt says should have seen around 58 per cent of ratepayers getting a smaller rates bill, which would have be offset by higher bills going out the rest.

That, she said, made the budget “nothing more than a sneak attack to make the majority of our ratepayers pay more than they ordinarily would this year had we continued rating under normal circumstances”. 

Cr Ostaszewskyj said of the concession system: “I feel it is too risky and I feel it is not fair.

“I do not feel it is the right time to try this experiment, nor do I feel that this rebate or concession is fair to all ratepayers. It distorts the rating system.”

Cr Sutherland said her main concerns were they were still relying too much on rates and draining far too much from reserves to fund projects this year. 

Cr Petersen-Pik was also concerned about the reserves, which would be depleted by a third.

“Those reserves were built very slowly by previous councils for specific purposes to ensure that if there are unexpected failures, or sudden needs for specific infrastructure or services, we will have the money to provide them quickly… how and when are we going to replenish those reserves?

“By taking $14m from the reserves, we are going to lose $1.3m in interest revenue each year. It’s not a one-off loss, but an ongoing one. I don’t think it is financially sustainable.” 

But the majority voted in favour of the budget, with mayor Dan Bull saying it delivers on the promise of a zero per cent rate increase and injects “$31m in works to help stimulate our local economy – this is double that of the previous year”.

By DAVID BELL

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