Rate increase backlash


By Jed Lanyon

Yarra Ranges councillors have been asked to take a pay cut instead of push forward with an “insensitive” increase of rates from a local resident and business owner, who gave feedback about the latest draft budget.

Yarra Ranges Council held a special meeting on 15 June to address community feedback from its recent draft budget released last month. The process allowed residents to provide written submissions as well as give their thoughts to councillors via a video stream.

The draft budget attracted 43 written submissions, 17 of which argued against a proposed increase in rates. Other submitters stressed the importance of the budget focussing on roads, including paths and drainage, mitigating the impact to the environment and climate change as well as reducing bushfire risk.

The draft budget, released on Tuesday 11 May, proposed a 1.5 per cent increase in rates, which would equate to approximately $43 extra per rate notice.

Yarra Ranges resident and business owner, Martin Dieleman, spoke at the meeting and put the pressure on council, asking the executive team to sacrifice a portion of their salary.

“I think it’s both immoral and insensitive to put a rate increase through to people. Your pay doesn’t change, but in the private sector, we take big hits. We have to borrow money and we have to bite our fingernails and have sleepless nights trying to keep our staff on,“ he said.

“I’d like to see some inclusion, all the way from the state government down, when we say ‘we’re all in it together’ we mean it. I’d like to see the management team at Yarra Ranges take a 20 per cent pay cut through to June 2022 just to show some solidarity within the community that they’re going to take a hit as well.”

Council defended the rate increase saying in a statement: “The proposal to adopt a rate rise of 1.5 per cent in line with the state government rate cap for 2021-22 has taken into consideration the economic impact that Covid-19 has had on the community and the need for council to be able to fund the delivery of over 120 services to the community, as well as build and maintain vital infrastructure and prepare for future programs and challenges.

“Last year, council adopted a budget which included a 2 per cent increase to council’s general rate income. To recognise the impact Covid-19 was having on the community at that time, council also decided to apply a ‘Covid credit’ which reduced the amount of rates payable for 2020-21 back to 2019-20 levels or lower.

“Rate increases are not applied to a blanket percentage increase to every household, it is based on changes in property values relative to one another. The rates for each ratepayer is largely tied to the property value as a proportion of the total land values in the municipality.”

Lilydale and District Historical Society president Sue Thompson spoke passionately about wanting to see local history preserved and recognised within council’s budget.

“I have one passion in life, and that’s history… We are today what our history made us and our history has shaped us in our form today. Not just European history, but the First People’s history as well.”

Other submitters pushed to see upgrades to the BMX facilities in Healesville, a rebuild for the privately owned Mooroolbark Terrace shopping centre and for a new diving pool after a reported ban on diving at an aquatic centre.

Councillors will vote on the budget at their 29 June meeting.