An accountant and former councillor says she's far from convinced that Goulburn Mulwaree Council needs a special rate variation (SRV).
Nina Dillon also believes that most people can't afford the 40 per cent rate hike the council is proposing in 2024/25.
"People are doing it tough and a lot of people don't have extra funds," she said.
"Business has to work within a budget so it may just mean that some services have to be cut back."
The council is undertaking community consultation on two proposals. These are:
- A 40 per cent general rate rise on top of the 3.5pc rate peg in 2024/25. This would establish a new rate base on which future state government rate pegs would be built. This would collect a further $9.46 million.
- A 25.5pc rise in year one and 20.5pc in year two, including an estimated 2.5pc rate peg. This would collect approximately $9.66m.
If councillors agree, an application will be lodged to the Independent Pricing and Regulatory Tribunal following community consultation. IPART would then undertake its own community consultation before making a determination.
The organisation says that "doing nothing" is not an option. If it didn't act, the council would face annual $9.7 million deficits annually for the next 10 years, a consultant's report stated. It has blamed inflation, COVID, extreme weather events and state government cost shifting for a situation in which "costs are growing faster than revenue."
Ms Dillon has been an accountant for some 35 years. She also served on Goulburn Mulwaree Council from 2004 until 2012.
She has questioned on social media the council's estimates of what each option means in monetary terms for ratepayers. While Ms Nillon argues it will cost more than the council says, the latter is standing by its calculations.
Corporate services director, Brendan Hollands said the "one source of truth" was the council's website.
"We've added a ready reckoner. We're saying, for example, if your rates are $1000, this is what your increase will be under both options," he said.
"We've done that straight out of the calculations...so people can go on there and see what their rates are now and how it will impact."
Mr Holland said if people had further questions beyond this, they could drop into one of the community consultation sessions or contact the council.
Mayor Peter Walker took to social media on Thursday to "respond to the miscalculations and untruths currently being spoken about the SRV." He referred people to the council's website and the ready reckoner.
In response, Ms Dillon said the "only miscalculation" was that the council seemed "oblivious to the fact the community couldn't afford the increase."
"The council and our elected councillors need to look at alternatives to operate effectively within their budget, as does the rest of the community at the moment. It is as simple as that," she said.
Ms Dillon said people's rents had risen "20 to 30pc on average" and they were paying more on home loans.
"Most wages haven't gone up. There's no magic money tree...so I think you have to look at the circumstances and say now is not the time (for a rate rise)," she said.
Ms Dillon also argued the rate peg, set by the state government, shouldn't be a rationale for the SRV. She said the council should have known about this and factored in aspects like the emergency services levy, higher costs, maintenance and depreciation.
In addition, she has pointed out that the council registered a $9.385m surplus to the year ending June 30, 2022. However the council says this is the consolidated figure, inclusive of the water and sewer fund. In contrast, the general fund, which is subject to rate pegging, is in deficit.
"I don't think the need (for a SRV) is proven," Ms Dillon said.
"...I understand that grants have dried up but if things need to be done, then perhaps all councils should go back to the state government and make a joint application for more money."
Mr Hollands said councils had lobbied for years for more federal Financial Assistance Grants (FAGS), without success, along with changes to IPART's rate peg methodology.
"That's why it's come to this...There is no secret to why 78 councils have gone through SRVs in the past four to five years, and potentially another 17 this year," he said.
"There is a fundamental flaw in the way councils have been serviced and financed. It's a mix of a lot of things. The FAGS were also frozen for a few years and you just don't catch that up. We're lobbying for change all the time but it's come to a stage where we can't wait."
Cr Walker did not wish to comment specifically on Ms Dillon's claims but said the council needed to continue explaining to the community why it was asking for the rate rise.
"There will always be misunderstandings and one of the biggest is that this is a one-off rate rise," he said.
"That's not correct. We are in fact setting a new base rate on which the rate peg will be added in (subsequent years)."
He pointed out that independent consultants (Morrison Low) had compiled all backing documents, justifying the rate rise.
"Councils are no longer about that old adage - roads, rates and rubbish. We are being asked to do much more and at the moment we don't have the finances for this," Cr Walker said.
Consultation drop-in sessions continue on Tuesday, October 10, 10am to 5pm at the Goulburn community centre, and Wednesday, October 11 at 7.30am at the Goulburn Chamber of Commerce's meeting.
Cr Walker said he wouldn't rule out more sessions if needed.
Submissions on the SRV can be lodged up until November 3. The council will consider feedback at its November 21 meeting and decide whether to proceed with an application.
Do you have something to say about this issue? Send a letter to the editor. Click here for the Goulburn Post
Our journalists work hard to provide local, up-to-date news to the community. This is how you can access our trusted content: