Up or down, councils must justify rates

Editorial: Index no justification for council rate rises

Opinion
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Just as councils should make a case for rate rises, they should also make a case for how they can deliver lower rates; how they will tighten their belts.

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STEVE Kons is right – councils should spend more time finding savings.

The outspoken Burnie alderman with an impressive resume, being a former mayor and a minister and deputy premier in the previous Labor government, has long campaigned for lower rates.

He argues rates should not only be kept under tight control, but actively reduced.

It was little surprise then to hear him describe a suggestion councils will need an average rates rise of 2.42 per cent to maintain services as “complete crap”.

Alderman Kons is clearly not a believer in the Local Government Association of Tasmania’s council cost index, which came up with that figure.

The association says the index is a tool to help councils set rates. 

It’s a guide to rising costs that are particularly relevant to councils.

It incorporates, for example, increases in road and bridge construction costs, which impact significantly on councils since local government is responsible for maintaining much of the state’s transport infrastructure.

This makes it more useful than other measures. 

But Alderman Kons, for one, is not convinced, claiming councils tend to over-estimate project costs.

Whether he is right or wrong on the validity of the index, there is a legitimate concern it might be used to justify rate rises that otherwise don’t stack up.

Councils should work hard to assess their entire cost structures and try to identify savings before setting rates.

They certainly should not arbitrarily raise their rates in line with an index.

Our elected representatives should remember they are spending our money.

They should be able to provide good reasons when they demand more from us.

This is not to say, however, councils should necessarily cut their rates or impose zero per cent rate rises, which are effectively a reduction in real terms. 

Costs do go up, and we all need to accept that, including Alderman Kons.

A commitment to reducing rates, even by the one per cent a year mark set by Burnie, means cuts will have to be made.

Just as councils should make a case for rate rises, they should also make a case for how they can deliver lower rates; how they will tighten their belts. 

Over the next several weeks councils will be adopting budgets and they should not forget their communities are watching.

The story Up or down, councils must justify rates first appeared on The Advocate.

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