Vincent adopts belt-tightener

A TIGHT-belt budget’s been passed at Vincent council, with provisions allowing up to $500 off rates bills for hardship. 

Mayor Emma Cole said it was her “most difficult” budget, even surpassing 2014 when the finances were thrown into disarray by an old error on the books that recorded a $3 million deficit as a surplus. 

The council is forecasting a $10.8m drop in revenue this year, down to $50m. 

Parking revenue is forecast to halve, and Beatty Park is expecting a similar drop while needing $2.9m in repairs. 

Twenty four community groups and sports clubs have been granted rates waivers, totalling another $127,000 in foregone revenue. 

The council’s kept its rates intake the same as last year, but individual residential rate bills will vary based on property rental value changes: About 40 per cent of residents will see a lower bill as the rentable value of their property’s dropped, 30 per cent will get the same as last year, and 30 per cent will see an increase.

$250,000’s been set aside for the hardship discount, available to people suffering from job loss, medical conditions, deaths or family problems. Those qualifying will first be given a six-month extension with no interest, and if they’re still in hardship after that then up to $500 can be waived. 

Vincent businesses have been particularly hard hit by the pandemic: 53 per cent of businesses in Vincent are accessing JobKeeper, compared to about a third of businesses in the City of Perth. 

To help retailers the council’s frozen the rate-in-the-dollar to be taken from commercial property owners. 

Rent values being down on average compared to last year mean they’ll pay a total of $290,000 less between them. 

That rates pain was originally going to be spread to residential bills and during consultation the council copped some criticism from unhappy homeowners. Ms Cole moved an amendment to keep the residential bills lower and so the council takes the $290,000 hit, starting the financial year with a deficit.

Council staff voted to freeze their wages, saving $380,000, and marketing and events spending will be reined in. 

Wages freeze

Ms Cole says there’s a lot of uncertainty ahead with what’s happening in other states and the potential impacts of the high court border closure challenge. 

Instead of a half-yearly budget review it’ll now be done quarterly, allowing faster adjustments and a possible top-up of the hardship fund if needed.

“I’m very conscious of the fact that peoples’ financial conditions could be even worse next year, not knowing what’s happening with JobKeeper and with the economy,” Ms Cole says. 

Vincent council’s cash reserves aren’t as swollen as some councils that’ve been able to dip into savings to tide them over this year, and the council had a pretty rough 2019 financially. The WA government’s MyCouncil rating site gave Vincent a “Financial Health Indicator Score” of 55, about 20 below the metro average, as they have a lot of ageing assets and not much cash.

By DAVID BELL

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