Warrnambool City Council could spend up to $30,000 on consultants to conduct a community discussion about its plan to seek a rate increase above the state government regulated cap.
Councillors promised ratepayers at Monday’s meeting they would listen to feedback about the proposal, which has already drawn strong criticism from ratepayers.
A city council spokesman said specialists would be hired to undertake the consultation, with a fixed priced for the consultancy of up to $30,000.
“The community consultation will be conducted over December to early February with a final report to be prepared in February,” the spokesman said.
“The format is likely to include a community-wide survey along with one or more workshops at which people can discuss ideas, concerns and aspirations.
“The timelines are to a large extent governed by the dates at which the Essential Services Commissions requires submissions, if that is the direction in which council decides to go.
“We will procure the services of community engagement specialists to ensure the consultation is far-reaching and rigorous.”
The council is seeking to increase its rates by two per cent over three years, which would add up to an extra $2 million.
At Monday night’s meeting councillors said they would listen to community feedback about the proposal.
Cr Peter Hulin voted against the council seeking a rate increase.
He said the council needed to find efficiencies elsewhere.
Cr Kylie Gaston said efficiencies had been leveraged since the introduction of rate capping, but said there was a limit to how far things could be tightened without cutting services and employment.
“The recommendation seeks feedback from the community,” she said.
“It’s to know if the community will pay an extra $40 per year on rates and if not we want people to tell us what they are prepared to lose or cut back on.
“This is an opportunity to have a mature conversation with all ratepayers. Feedback is absolutely critical.
“This is not a decision to definitely increase rates, and even if we decide that the Essential Services Commission will make its own decision.”
Cr Mike Neoh said the ESC would look at submissions from the community and whether or not it was fair for council to up rates.
“We are under pressure,” he said.
“The costs for services are going up and the alternative is to put up fees. We need to look at all options.”
Newly elected mayor Tony Herbert said the Warrnambool community was aspirational, but services for the city’s ratepayers and residents were not free.
“This stuff comes at a significant cost,” he said.
“I think it’s time to at least put it out to the community and ask what they need.
“All this is doing is putting it out for community consultation so this group can make an informed decision.”
As part of the 2018 Community Satisfaction Survey 400 households were asked about how they would prefer to address funding shortfalls.
The greatest proportion of respondents (38 per cent) stated they would prefer shortfalls to be covered by an increase in rates to be shared by all ratepayers while 34 per cent said they would prefer any shortfall to be covered by an increase in user fees.
17 per cent were in favour of reducing services and 12 per cent of respondents said they did not now or couldn’t say.
‘A rise will impact the community’
Warrnambool Ratepayers Association president Brian Kelson says a rate increase will effect the community’s most vulnerable people.
"You only have to look that Warrnambool is the fourth highest city in the state for disconnection of utilities," he said.
"That fact alone is to me very chilling. I find it sad that people can’t find the money to pay their utilities. Will people decide to put their health at risk. Will they pay their rates or medical bills?”
Warrnambool ratepayer Rob Lewis said he had been successful in obtaining a reduction in his rates after the city council’s valuer decreased the property value of his home.
He said it was originally valued at $287,000.
"It's an average house in Merrivale," he said.
"I said we can't afford these massive increases. We are on a pension and we have two kids with disabilities. We put an objection in and the valuer said we were right, and dropped our value to $240,000. Put in a written objection and they will look at it. If rates go up it will be hard."