Goulburn accountant, Nina Dillon says she hopes the council listens to the community following a rally protesting a proposed rate hike on Saturday, November 4.
Up to 400 people, including five councillors, attended the gathering on Saint Saviour's common. Mayor Peter Walker did not attend. The Post has sought comment from him.
Ms Dillon arranged the rally to oppose Goulburn Mulwaree Council's proposal for a 51.2 per cent hike over two years, under one scenario. Another option suggests a 43.5pc rise in year one, followed by an estimated 2.5pc rate peg in the second year. A third, less preferred option is the base case, incorporating the rate peg only, and equating to an approximate 6.1pc rise over two years.
Ms Dillon has led a community campaign against the increase. She told the crowd that when she looked at council profits and money in the bank, "it didn't seem to add up."
"I know how tough people are doing it, including those in business," she said.
"There's been a downturn in the economy, there are high interest rates and people aren't buying as much. Once people pay bills, there's not much left."
The council has rejected Ms Dillon's calculations and has said money in the bank was identified for projects. Consultants say the rise is necessary to avoid successive annual deficits and to boost unrestricted cash reserves.
She said she'd experienced a 200 per cent increase in case enquiries since May. She also noted an upsurge in those seeking food and other assistance from local charities.
"We need to realise that for some vulnerable people this (proposed) rate rise has been upsetting and worrying and will have a huge impact on their mental health...," she said.
"Let's not pretend the economy is doing okay."
She pointed to homelessness rates and social housing wait times and said those on aged pensions would be stretched to pay more. Ms Broadbent said although the council had a hardship arrangement, payment plans attracted interest if people were in arrears.
Another speaker, Parkesbourne grazier, Sue Arcus, said the hike would "cripple" her business and family.
"We will crumble and so will many many other primary producers," she said.
"One of my primary producer neighbours collapsed when he received the proposal letter. His rates will increase to $20,000 per year if the rates (rise) by the proposed two or three options. I fear that here will be a rise in rural suicide directly due to the ridiculous proposed rates increase."
Paul Kemp argued Goulburn Mulwaree's income levels were lower than many other areas and more people were experiencing food insecurity nationwide.
"I'm very disappointed with the councillors as they should have displayed more commonsense and concern for the community. Prudent management of finances is the best approach," he said.
"My message to the council is that this is not good enough by far."
Consultants Morrison Low stated that the council had implemented efficiencies totalling $639,000 annually and collected $5.2m in one-off revenue. A further 42 operating improvements are underway.
Meantime, speaker Steve Armstrong said he "trusted" Ms Dillon's calculations over the council's. He criticised the consultation process, saying not everyone received the initial council letter. In addition, this correspondence suggested the hike could be temporary, which was later corrected.
"Most people understand that everything is rising in cost...but a 52pc increase in rates is a bit outrageous," Mr Armstrong said.
"...Councillors need to remember we vote again next September. They have to sell this to us and I don't think ratepayers are buying it."
"Rather than increase rates, the council should be looking at how they can run things more efficiently, just like the rest of us," she said.
"...We need to let IPART know this doesn't have community support."
Other speakers included Jim Feely, who also spoke from a rural perspective, and One Nation member, Richard Orchard, who questioned council figures, including the inclusion of depreciation on major assets, like the aquatic centre. Council management says this must be included under legislation and unlike business, cannot be written off.
Mr Orchard also said consultation had been "buried" amid school holidays and the Voice referendum.
"Put this (rate proposal) on temporary because next September, we'll sack them (councillors)," he said.
Rural producer, Jan Cheetham also challenged council financial figures and the said the hike would deeply impact an ageing population.
"Is that what you want? I don't want that...," he said.
"When I was mayor we fought to make this area prosperous but today a lot of that has disappeared...I don't want Goulburn to become a ghost town so let's stick together. We're not going to let this council railroad us."
Mr Lamarra thanked councillors who attended but said Mayor Peter Walker "probably should have been there."
Crs Dan Strickland, Bob Kirk, Jason Shepherd, Michael Prevedello and Carol James attended.
Ms Dillon said at least 2000 people had signed a petition opposing the rate rise. She was pleased with Saturday's turn-up. She is meeting with councillors and will speak at the November 21 council meeting. At this forum, councillors will decide whether to proceed with a special rate variation application to IPART.
"I will be making plenty of noise in the meantime," she said.
Our journalists work hard to provide local, up-to-date news to the community. This is how you can access our trusted content: