City of Bunbury adopts 3 per cent rate rise for 2019/20 financial year

Rates rise: The City of Bunbury has adopted a 3 per cent increase for 2019/20, with money to be spent on major projects. Photo: Bunbury Mail.
Rates rise: The City of Bunbury has adopted a 3 per cent increase for 2019/20, with money to be spent on major projects. Photo: Bunbury Mail.

Homeowners across Western Australia have received, or are waiting to receive, a letter from their local council that few will relish.

The annual issue of local government rates is hotly debated in the media, around dinner tables and at community gatherings - with 2019-20's offering no exception.

With people doing it tough and household bills showing no sign of reducing, council rates add an extra financial burden on WA families.

Those in local government argue rates are needed to fund infrastructure projects in our suburbs and to add requested facilities in our communities.

They say rates allow the council to provide essential services, empty our bins and maintain our public spaces.

With inflation rising, local government representatives also say rates must increase as a consequence.

However, a public debate has been ensuing this year around the issue, with many people suggesting if local councils were more stringent with existing funds, the need for rates hikes would not be there.

Talk of a rates freeze has also been coined.

With our rates notices having arrived or in the post, this week we have looked at how this area compares to others across WA.

The City of Bunbury has approved a 3 per cent rise in their 2019/20 Budget, with money to be spent on major projects.

These include the Youth Precinct design, construction of the new Splash Park and upgrades to Sykes Foreshore, Stirling Street Arts Centre expansion, improvements to Halifax and installation of a new electronic billboard at the entry to the city.

Mayor Gary Brennan said there was a strong focus on business and the rate increase was "reasonable."

"We will be investing heavily in the CBD over the next year with the implementation of our CBD Action Plan, as well as the promotion and marketing of Bunbury to visitors," he said.

"Council has maintained a disciplined approach to developing this year's Budget based on key considerations and many competing demands - such as what the community can afford as a reasonable rate increase."

The Shire of Capel also increased rates by 3 per cent. Chief executive Ian McCabe said the income would deliver services to the community.

"Council works to limit any increase in costs for households and business, recognising where challenges lie in segments of the community," he said.

"Council must also balance the required work of local government with what the community expects, such as manage recreation and culture, support disadvantaged groups and work with schools, business and community groups to improve quality of life."

The Shire of Dardanup approved a 4 per cent increase, with the money to fund road projects, the redesign of the Eaton Bowling Club and a new shed for the Waterloo Bushfire Brigade.

Shire president Mick Bennett said funding had been allocated in a way that ensured everyone would feel the benefit in some regard.

"From safer roads and intersections, to children learning coding at the library or our seniors sharing a Christmas lunch, rural residents staying up-to-date on local news and landmark events drawing in more visitors to benefit our tourist operators," he said.

"It's not always the big ticket items which have an impact at a grassroots level but the multiple small investments we make in all corners of our community creating a valuable ripple effect throughout."

In comparison, the City of Rockingham's rates have increased 3.6 per cent and the Town of Port Hedland have had a 4 per cent spike.

On the other side of the coin, the City of Melville have only approved a 1.1 per cent rise.

In other areas of the South-West, the City of Busselton has adopted a 3.95 per cent jump and the Shire of Harvey passed a 3.5 per cent hike.

The Shire of Collie had the most modest jump in the region at 1.55 per cent.

The City of Mandurah has approved a 2.5 per cent rise, with Shire of Murray residents taking on a 2 per cent hike.

The Western Australian Local Government Association (WALGA) is the peak industry body representing councils across the state.

WALGA president Lynne Craigie said rates formed an essential part of local government revenue and their capacity to fund infrastructure and services for the benefit of their community.

"Together with their communities, councils make a decision on the level of services they wish to provide, assess their costs and the revenue they can secure from other sources and set rates according to what is required to deliver the agreed level of service," she said.

"To impose a freeze on rates would place undue pressure on councils' long-term financial management, a process already under pressure from diminishing contributions by other spheres of government.

"In other jurisdictions, rates caps have proven to have adverse impacts on infrastructure renewal.

"In some cases, when rates are kept artificially low by a council, significant increases are then required a few years later in order to 'catch up' on the renewals that were deferred as unaffordable at the time."

Local government minister David Templeman said council rates were an emotive topic.

"Many people are doing it tough at the moment and tightening their belts," he said.

"The McGowan government has made some tough decisions to freeze the salaries of politicians and public servants and I would urge local governments to follow our lead.

"Local governments are large independent bodies and are responsible for managing their budgets. As such, the state government has no role in the setting of rates.

"I fully understand the arguments behind freezing rates and I am sympathetic to those who advocate for them.

"However, I also understand the complexities of local government budgeting and the flow on impact rate freezes can have on local sporting, community and charity groups who rely on subsidised support from the sector.

"I also believe local councils need to explain clearly why they might propose rate increases and justify this with their community.

"I am currently undertaking a review of the Local Government Act 1995. Submissions to the second phase recently closed, and we are currently analysing responses in relation to rate setting, and investigating options in this area.

"People who are unhappy with their rates notice can request a review of the gross rental value of their property, which is the basis for their rates, and of course they can have their say at the local government elections in October.

"Councils are required to advertise their rates and people should express their views to their council if they don't agree with what is proposed."