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Ratepayer fury over predicted rate hikes as council revenue dwindles during COVID-19 crisis

Many Victorian councils look set to hike rates to claw back revenue lost during the coronvirus downturn, as other income streams, such as funds raised from facilities like pools and gyms, and parking fines, dwindle.

A Herald Sun investigation reveals a third of Victorian councils have already indicated they intend to increase rates by two per cent, the maximum allowed under the state government’s rate cap.

There are also suggestions some may apply to the Essential Services Commission for permission to increase rates by more than the rate cap.

President of Ratepayers Victoria, Dean Hurlston, preemptively slammed councils over rate hikes.

“At a time when we are seeing record unemployment, record loss of business and an enormous impact to everyone’s household budget, we are seeing councils sit on their hands and offer very little in the way of real relief and leadership in this situation,” he told 3AW’s Tom Elliott.

“Sixty per cent of council income is from rates alone, the other 40 per cent is coming from user fees for pools, parking fines, etc., and councils have become addicted to that revenue.”

Ratepayers Victoria says almost all councils have failed to disclose how many staff they’ve asked to stand down or take leave entitlements.

“What we’re advocating for is for CEOs to actually … show some leadership like any other corporate entity would, stand staff down, put them on leave and assist them to help reduce the burden on ratepayers.

“Why should staff in their businesses be propped up by ratepayers when there’s not much for them to do, and why should every other household or small business in Victoria, and across Australia, actually face economic pain that councils aren’t prepared to wear their share of?”

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President of the Municipal Association of Victoria and Boroondara Councillor, Coral Ross, said claims councils intend to apply for a rate cap exemption to allow them to raise rates by more than two per cent are untrue.

“I’m certainly not aware of any that are doing so,” she told Tom Elliott.

When asked why councils are not laying off staff and senior management are not taking pay cuts, Cr Ross said demand for council services has increased during the coronavirus pandemic.

“The community demand and expectation on councils is actually increasing … and councils are performing a range of services focused on community safety,” she said.

Councils have until August 31st to deliver their budgets.

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