Rate hike hit

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Rate hike hit

Mount Gambier City Council’s proposed 10.24% rate rise has received unanimous support from elected members with the community now being invited to provide feedback.

Council endorsed the 2024/25 Draft Annual Business Plan and Budget for public consultation at its meeting on Tuesday night.

The matter was discussed at length, with Councillor Paul Jenner stating that “council has been running on the smell of an oily rag for far too long”.

“We all come to this conclusion that this is the best for the city to move forward,” Cr Jenner said.

“This year’s annual budget and business plan has an enormous amount of work put into it by both staff and councillors.

“We have excellent staff. The hours they have put in to provide us with the information to make this decision has been immense.

“You have stupid people like me that come to them and ask for more models.

“We understand how hard it is for the people to pay. We are trying to screw every cent out of this budget.

“We first started looking at the long-term financial plan figure of 6.2% was just not going to deliver.

“The scenario left council well short of delivery of this year’s goods and services and not allowing for growth, sustainability and extras, and the budget just was not going in the right direction at all.

“Worst of all we were not going to meet 2027 operating surplus KPI’s.”

Cr Jenner said council has had lower than average state and rural rates in South Australia for many years.

“We looked at what we could do to be the average increase to get back up to state rural average which would have been an increase of 41%,” he said.

“We looked at rates that were more realistic, 12, 13 and 14% that had 1% growth increase and still uncomfortable with the outcomes.

“The best scenario we came up with was 10.24% plus 1% growth and 43.8% waste service charge increase.

“It has been hard, but the reality is the staff cannot keep doing what they have been doing.

“We need to reduce operating deficit to $1683, 000 this financial year and reaching surplus by 2027. We have financial targets we have to meet.

“We have been doing it cheaply. And we can no longer keep on doing it. Council’s costs have increased hugely over the past couple years.

“We are not going backwards in going forwards to providing goods and services to the community.”

Cr Jenner urged the community to provide feedback on the draft plan.

“Please people if you are not happy, or if you think it’s fantastic, put in a submission to council, so we can consider it. If you want to be heard, write to council, then we can action what you have said.”

The community has until June 13 to make submissions, which will be taken into consideration at a special council meeting on June 18.

This meeting will be open to the public to ask questions and make submissions.

Along with Cr Jenner, Crs Josh Lynagh, Frank Morello, Max Bruins and Mark Lovett were in attendance and each voted in favour of the recommendations.

Crs Kate Amoroso and Sonya Mezinec were apologies from the meeting.

Mayor Lynette Martin encouraged ratepayers to take the time to read the document to gain a better understanding of council’s decision making.

“There are many factors that come into play, including legislative obligations,” she said.

“The report provides ratepayers and residents with comprehensive insight into council’s annual business plan and budget process.

“Elected members and staff have spent hours, weeks and months exploring some 30 models over seven workshops to ensure the provision of service delivery required to meet community expectations, ensure that council’s position for long term financial sustainability and expectations in relation to our community’s vision for Mount Gambier – 2035.

“Council is very mindful of cost of living pressures on our community and remind ratepayers and residents that we have rate relief options available. I encourage you to contact council to discuss.

“City of Mount Gambier’s average residential rates have historically been significantly lower than the rural state average, and remain so.”

Mayor Martin said council’s average rate was $1223 in 2023/24 compared with $1725 for the South Australian rural average.

“With the proposed rate increase this year, we will still be 18% below last year’s average,” she said.

“We are all very aware that it’s been a challenging time for us. It’s not easy for us to make these decisions. But this is a responsible decision.

“By investing further into our city we create opportunity and create sustainable economy for whole community to enjoy.

Mayor Martin’s message in relation to the Draft 2024/25 Annual Business Plan and Budget, along with a message from chief executive Sarah Philpott, can be read in full in the 87-page document.

Meanwhile, Cr Bruins also took the opportunity to express his views on the preparation of the budget and business plan.

“I thank all the staff right across the organisation for their input and insight to assistance in the preparation of this year’s budget,” he said.

“I’m not sure if anyone outside the organisation actually understands just how much work does go into this process.

“Elected members know how crucial it is for the ongoing delivery of services and infrastructure for the benefit of the whole community.

“We as elected members do not take this process lightly and the budget is always top of mind in our decision making process.

“We constantly take on feedback throughout the year and have had seven in depth and highly detailed budget specific briefings in order to finalise the input of business plan and budget.

“The budget impacts ourselves, our families, our neighbours, friends and colleagues.

“We know we cannot please everybody, and compromise is part of living in a democracy.

“Each year we are tasked with the unenviable role of bearing a budget for a population of almost 28,000 people with differing economic and social circumstances.

“We need to weigh up and balance the outcomes for everyone in the community.

“The rates for Mount Gambier has been substantially lower for quite a number of years and will remain so. Inflation impacts us too.

“We have taken on community feedback in terms of infrastructure, services, maintenance and growth, and budgeting accordingly.”

Cr Bruins suggested anyone providing feedback to thoroughly review the document in its entirety.

“Become well informed and provide feedback accordingly that is well researched and constructive for us to consider to move forward,” he said.

Cr Morello acknowledged the rate increase as being “quite high” and will impact on ratepayers.

“I acknowledge 10.24% is quite high and will impact on ratepayers, some more than others. There’s no escaping that fact. It’s not desirable,” he said.

“It’s fair to say, we agonised over the numbers and examined different rate models.

“It became clear very quickly if we are to provide the level of services we expect and responsibly manage assets and plan for the future, it’s a level of investment we all need to make.

“Council cushioned the blow during COVID and tried to smooth rate rises last year but inflation pressures, a reduction in federal funding, the demands of a growing city and community’s vision for 2035 is just not possible to keep absorbing increasing costs anymore.”

Crs Virgo and Lynagh echoed the words of fellow councillors.

“It’s important we all have a say. We have stretched our resources for quite some time,” Cr Virgo said.

“I have only been here (elected member) a year, and in that time, I have seen the community demanding council to do more.

“We need to make the changes now. Now is the time to invest in our city and I believe our community understands this.

“The reality is the more money that is spent the more rates will be raised, debts we must incur or services we must reduce.

“Wulanda has been delivered and whether you agree with it or not a semantic argument on the effect on rates will not change that.

“Noone joins council wanting to increase rates. We are all ratepayers, we all have families, we all know someone who is struggling.

“Council is doing as much as it can for those people, but we must also be financially sustainable.

“Remember there is help available for those struggling, including rate relief payment plans.”

Also discussed at the meeting was the Draft Long Term Financial Plan and Draft Asset Management Plans 2025-2034 for Public Consultation.

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