The state Liberal party’s promise to introduce council rate capping has been ill received among Port Augusta City Council (PACC) representatives.
PACC mayor Sam Johnson and city manager Greg Perkin have both openly opposed the announcement, suggesting the move would have a detrimental effect on PACC’s ability to provide community services and facilities in the future.
PACC’s rates are are generally considered very high among residents, in comparison with other council rates.
According to PACC’s long term financial plan, it is predicted that in Port Augusta rates will increase between 6.5 per cent to 6.9 per cent in the medium term (comprising four per cent in operating costs and two to three per cent in capital works).
Mayor Johnson said these perceived higher cost of rates in Port Augusta can be explained with reference to the number of rateable properties and the provision of community-demanded, “out of the box” services supplied by the PACC.
“Our ability to create revenue like another council is significantly different,” he said.
“Port Pirie has got almost double the number of rateable properties than what Port Augusta’s got.
“Adelaide City Council has the ability to raise 85 million bucks out of residential rate revenue, versus our 13 million - you’re talking apples and oranges.”
He also said smaller, regional councils rely much more heavily on rates because state and federal governments are failing to provide the services that are essential to rural communities, citing nursing homes, childcare, the OPAL program and the K9 patrol unit as examples of this.
“PACC has spent the last 15-20 years building social programs with policies where other government agencies have failed to provide funding,” he said.
Mr Perkin suggested that larger, urban councils will “barely flinch” at the lost revenue from capped council rates, and agreed that the impact on smaller communities such as Port Augusta would be significant.
“Essential services would be cut and future projects would be placed on the back burner,” he said.
Mr Johnson believes a number of projects in the pipeline will be endangered if rates are capped, including the key infrastructure projects such as central oval and the airport development.
Both Mr Perkin and Mr Johnson expressed their distaste for state government intervention in local government territory, with mayor Johnson labelling the announcement as “purely a quick-vote win”.
“Once again this is a policy developed by metropolitan focussed people that has limited impact on metropolitan Adelaide but huge impact on regional communities,” Mr Perkin said.
Mr Johnson also highlighted a common misconception among ratepayers about the incurred savings of this scheme.
He said under this policy, ratepayers won’t just simply see an amount minused from their annual council rate bill; council rates across the state would still continue to increase annually, but the amount by which they increase would simply be lessened.
Mayor Johnson suggested the state government target other, more detrimental cost-of-living expenses such as water and electricity to help ease the financial burden on South Australian families.
“The cost of water has gone up over 300 per cent in under five years,” he said.
“If you’re going to tell me that council rates have exceeded that price rise, then I’m willing to talk to Steven Marshall.”
He said if the Port Augusta community would like to see their council rates reduced, it is imperative they engage their local councillors about where they would like to see cuts made.
“If a service isn’t running efficiently anymore, that’s fine - we’ll cut it.
“But what do people want to see gone?
“Do they want to see less money spent on capital expenditure for roads and footpaths?
“If people think they need to wipe a service, or ‘x’ amount of expenditure off of our budget, then at budget time put the pressure on your elected members, who were democratically voted for, and tell them and make sure they represent what it is you want.”
Port Augusta resident and real estate agent Greg Kipling has offered a local perspective on the proposal of capping council rate rises.
As a local business and home owner, Mr Kipling said he thinks council rates in Port Augusta are definitely higher than similar towns and suburbs in South Australia.
“I get constant feedback from people that own investment properties and they question: why are the council rates in Port Augusta so high?,” he said.
“There’s a lot of angst in the community about council rates.”
He said there is certainly a need to reduce council rates in the area because many residents are currently finding it unaffordable.
However, he said the solution may lie in the community’s power to determine which council-funded services they feel are truly necessary.
“I acknowledge why councils here have to charge more,” he said.
“Council obviously say, we need ‘x’ amount of dollars to run services that the people want, so we divide this by the number of ratepayers, and that’s what we all have to pay.
“We all acknowledge that, but the question is; is there a way we can reduce those costs?
“Perhaps now there’s an argument to have a public forum to say, let’s have a look at some of the services council are providing and are they all warranted - are they all necessary?”
In addition to this, Mr Kipling said there are a number of council-funded services operating in Port Augusta which should be the responsibility of the state government, yet are currently being duplicated by the council due to a lack of funding from higher government levels.
He offered the example of the K9 patrol service, which is funded by the PACC.
“We all pay a state tax for a police force - if our crime rate is over and above the average, then the leaders in our community should be putting pressure on the state government to increase the policing here, as opposed to us having to pay for a ‘second’ police force,” he said.
“It shouldn’t be up to the ratepayers to wear the extra cost - we pay state and federal taxes, so those services that are supposed to be coming from state and federal governments - we’re not getting our fair share of that.
“If it’s not council’s role, and we’re not getting what we need from the state government, then council and our local members of parliament should be putting pressure on governments to lift their game.”