Rates pain for village seniors

SENIORS living in Mertome Village are feeling “very hurt, unwanted, and disrespected” over a massive $250,000 rates bill they believe they were never supposed to pay. 

Bayswater council built Mertome on Winifred Road in 1972 and it was likely the first council-provided aged care service in WA. 

For most of its lifespan the village was run by either the council or a not-for-profit so rates weren’t payable, and when residents moved in they signed a contract which made it clear they wouldn’t have to pay rates. 

But in 2019 Bayswater council was looking to get out of the aged care game. Most Mertome residents were uneasy about the move but the council decided running and renovating retirement villages to a modern standard was getting costly and handed over management of the 100-unit village to Hall & Prior Aged Care Group.

“The decision was made with the best interests of residents in mind,” then-mayor Dan Bull said back in 2019 when the divestment was finalised. “Hall & Prior have an excellent reputation for providing quality aged cares services.”

One problem was that the handover to a private company meant the property was now rateable.

That means $250,000 in rates arrears is due, along with future yearly rates bill. 

Either Hall & Oates has to pay it, or it’ll be passed on to the seniors living there. Ongoing annual bills will be about $925, if they qualify for pensioners rebates. 

Mertome residents attended the February 22 Bayswater council meeting, angry and upset at the unexpected expense many would struggle to pay. 

One resident said he’d been told many times by Bayswater council “our contracts are concrete” and they were never supposed to pay rates.

“We don’t own the land, we don’t own the buildings, and yet they want rates from us,” the resident said. “If anyone should pay rates it should be Hall & Prior.”

Mertome resident Maxine Whitner asked: 

“What consideration has been given to the effects these unexpected expenses may have on elderly residents’ physical, mental and emotional health, given that many have no income other than their pension.

“It was a decision by Bayswater council which puts this impost on Hall & Prior which possibly makes it more difficult for them to be a more viable company, and obviously they were going to pass it on to us which must have been very obvious to the councillors.

“Many Mertome residents have spent most of their life in Bayswater. The City of Bayswater in the past had a record to be proud of in looking after its seniors. 

“These same seniors are now feeling very unhurt, unwanted, and disrespected.”

The city’s corporate director Lorraine Driscoll responded: “The city is very conscious of the impact on residents and 

is speaking with Hall & Prior about this. But unfortunately the fact remains that there is a rates bill outstanding and going into the future rates notices will be raised.”

Best interests

Bayswater CEO Andrew Brien said the decision to transfer Mertome to Hall & Prior was made in the best interests of residents, given the challenge for the council to upgrade or develop its aged care facilities.

“The city is confident that Hall & Prior is best placed to meet the needs of residents of Mertome Retirement Village now and into the future,” Mr Brien said.

“They have committed to refurbishing the facilities.

“As Hall & Prior are a profit-making business, they are required to pay rates in the City of Bayswater. It was Hall & Prior’s decision to pass the rates bill onto their residents.

“Mertome Retirement Village was formerly operated by Juniper (United Churches), a not-for-profit organisation, who were exempt from paying rates.

“The requirement to pay rates was outlined in the Business Sale Agreement signed by the city and Hall & Prior in 2019. 

“The city has not received any rates income since 2019. If rates are not paid this would have a significant impact on the city’s budget and its ability to provide services and facilities to the community. It is only fair that rates burden be shared by all businesses in the community.”

by DAVID BELL

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