Council rates must be fair and equitable 

The Property Council of Australia today again raised concerns regarding a lack of transparency and fairness in rates settings across the state.

Tasmanian Executive Director Brian Wightman called upon councils to become more accountable.

“How is it that we have a disparity in rates settings from 1.3 per cent to 4.3 per cent across a state with only 516,000 people?

“Tasmanian rate-payers deserve better, the cost of the delivery of services  shouldn’t vary in a manner which creates unfairness and inequity.

“In addition, the type of services provided should not vary so significantly between municipalities either. The State Government needs to show leadership and tackle the quality and quantity of services across municipal boundaries and the cost,” he said.

In the wake of recent rates increases by councils and the Auditor-General’s Report which highlighted that 14 councils delivered a net underlying deficit to rate payers, the Property Council of Australia called on local government leaders to inform their constituents of why they were in debt, how they were going to resolve the situation and the reasons underpinning why many councils have increased rates more than the consumer price index.

“It is obviously a time for more accountability which the State Government can mandate.

“An effective option would be to implement a body similar to the Independent Pricing and Regulatory Tribunal (IPART) in NSW, or Council Performance Reporting by Local Government Victoria. 

“Members of the Property Council of Australia want efficiency and accountability from their representatives at a local government level.  The Local Government Association of Tasmania endows itself with the luxury of creating its own quasi CPI, the Council Cost Index which is often far higher than actual CPI.  As a very basic requirement councils who choose to increase rates beyond CPI should have to deliver a statement of reasons to rate payers, otherwise rates should be capped or pegged at CPI,” Mr Wightman said.

Mr. Wightman also recognised the issue of regional infrastructure, including events and festivals where a small number of councils were paying for the majority of rate payers across the state.

“Regional infrastructure such as Aurora Stadium and the Aquatic Centre benefit all northern Tasmanians yet they are supported by Launceston City Council rate payers who not only pay to enter, they pay for the upkeep via their rates.

“Launceston City Council rate payers also support the iconic Cataract Gorge and the Queen Victoria Museum and Art Gallery which again is of benefit to everyone across the region,” he said

The Property Council again reiterated that the large number of councils and councillors meant that money had to be wasted on duplicated services, over governance, and poor decision making, all subsidised by State and Federal Government funding, and an ever increasing burden of rates.

“23 of our 29 councils represent only 47 per cent of the population (an average of around 10,000 residents per council).

“If Tasmania is serious about kick-starting the economy, reducing the cost of living, and improving conditions for business, it must act urgently to reform the local government sector.

“Tasmania’s residents need to know that council rates and levies and water, waste, and electricity charges are being determined according to realistic needs and within acceptable bounds,” he said. 

Mr Wightman said that the Property Council of Australia had consistently raised the issue of unfairness and inequity with the State Government, and provided solutions.

The State Government should resource the Department of Premier of Cabinet to:

  1. require councils to identify and declare publicly their core business and their strategies to deliver efficiencies and improvements;
  2. ensure that rate-payers are provided with clarity and transparency about the methodology for setting rates and are able to challenge decisions; and
  3. require any increases, post rate fixing, to be linked directly to improvements in service delivery or the provision of infrastructure, and to be capped to CPI or less similar to NSW with an IPART Review - if councils want higher rates they need to justify the increase.

 

There should also be a Review of State Taxation to consider other taxes and levies and their impacts on business and the community, including:

  1. the need for transparency and consistency in the charging of council rates across the state; and
  2. the appropriateness and applicability of development charges and levies.

 

The Property Council of Australia recently commended the State Government for including $400,000 in the state budget to support the essential work of the Planning Reform Taskforce, and $1.9 million for the iPlan project. 

The Planning Reform Taskforce has undertaken a huge task, releasing the State Planning Provisions well ahead of time.  We remain of the view that the leadership provided to reduce more than thirty planning schemes into one should be complemented by local government reform.

“Sydney with a population of 5 million people now has 25 councils.  In Tasmania, we have 29 councils for 516,000 people.  That fact is plainly ridiculous and requires tough leadership to resolve,” Mr. Wightman said.