Ratepayers say the City of Swan needs to be smarter in its spending following decisions to set rates at 2.5 per cent, instead of 1.5, and to put $1million into a Midland Oval development that still does not have a business plan.
The initial recommendation to council for a 3 per cent rate rise was criticised by Swan Valley Residents and Ratepayers Association (SVRRA) spokesperson Howard Dawson who said a 1.5 per cent rise was more in keeping with the current climate.
Two alternatives, to set rates at 2.5 and 1.8, were put to council to consider.
Cr Ian Johnson said he intended to support the 1.8 increase proposed by Cr Rod Henderson as the city’s financial health was good.
He said a 1.8 rise, was greater than the rate of inflation and it would also be sustainable without impacting reserves or services to the public, or requiring future rate rises significantly over the rate of inflation.
But council voted to adopt the 2.5 increase, on the same day the City of Stirling – the biggest local government in the area by population – announced it had adopted a 1.75 per cent increase.
Mayor says a 2.5 per cent rise is practical:
Swan Mayor Mick Wainwright said 2.5 per cent was practical and focused on boosting infrastructure, creating community hubs and providing quality services.
Ratepayers struggling to pay their council rates and charges can also apply to have the interest accrued, up to $400, written off under the new policy.
Mayor Wainwright said the city had listened to ratepayers and had found budget savings but Mr Dawson said further belt tightened could have been done.
The experienced business analyst said the hardship relief package was an acknowledgement of difficult times but a simpler solution would have been to reduce the rate increase to below the CPI.
Mr Dawson said that would reduce the need for the hardship allowance and provide financial relief to all rate payers.
“The SVRRA considers the council failed to grasp the opportunity to undertake a serious review of its annual expenditure methodology, and kept rate increases to below inflation.
“As it is, the rate increase is still 250 per cent above the Western Australian CPI.”
The SVRRA says more belt tightening could be done:
Mr Dawson said the encompassing thought was that there has been little-to-no belt tightening by the city.
Expenses in the past 12 months has included $68,500 on catering for councillors and staff after council meetings and the 2017 mayor dinner cost ratepayers $46,000.
Setting aside $1m in the 17-18 financial year just for planning on the Midland Oval has also raised eyebrows because it has a masterplan design, that has been out for public comment, but no business plan.
Mr Foley said the budget allocated to the Midland Oval related mainly to detailed design of the precinct, which included public open space and street scaping, and planning for civil works, public art and lighting.
He said since 1968, there has been an average of one plan developed every 18-months but the oval’s business plan was still being prepared and is yet to be referred to council for resolution before it’s publicly available.
Questioning the city’s rationale:
Mr Dawson said the SVRRA did not understand how $1m could be allocated to detailed design for the Midland oval when the business plan has not yet been completed or undergone public scrutiny.
Landgate statistics show a seven percent drop in house and unit prices in Midland in the 12-month period from 2014 to 2015 and 2015 to 2016.
That trend is predicted to go downwards and Mr Dawson said the oval’s business plan should address that trend.
“Why allocate $1m to detailed design if the business plan could well end up saying the development is likely to be sub-economic?
“The SVRRA also wonders why the detailed design is the onus of the city.
“Shouldn’t that be put out to tender and be the responsibility of would be developers to submit their proposals with that cost correctly incorporated into their profit modelling?
“If a development is only going to be economic because a large amount of the costs is actually borne by the ratepayers then we question that strategy.”
CEO says city’s budget accounts for growth and an increase in charges:
Mr Foley said the city worked hard to prepare a balanced budget and propose a rate increase that took into account the city’s growing population and needs.
He said the city also has to allow for State Government increases to utilities and other fees which are predicted to be well above the 1 per cent rate rise, as well as increases in charges for other services such as disposal of waste.
But Mr Dawson said it was unreasonable for council to increase the cost on its services above the CPI.
“As the CPI is a measure of the cost pressures within society it is difficult for the city to argue that it is under greater cost pressures than the broader economy,” he said.
“If it does, that often comes down to management issues.”