By ALLISON HORE
The rates harmonisation process has continued to cause strife for Inner West councillors who called an extraordinary meeting to discuss the changes in response to growing community frustrations.
Currently there are three rates structures across the Inner West. This disparity comes as a result of the three pre-amalgamation councils- Ashfield Council, Leichhardt Council and Marrickville Council- using different structures to calculate rates.
But under the NSW Government’s Local Government Act all amalgamated councils are required by law to “harmonise” rates by July this year.
According to the proposed structure, rates will be calculated in proportion to property valuations supplied by the NSW Valuer General. The minimum rate for residential properties would be $850, while for businesses it would be $820.
When asked to provide feedback on the new structure over 1000 respondents said that they didn’t support the proposed minimum residential rate. Further, 75 percent of respondents didn’t support the new structure as a whole.
When asked to provide comment on their answer, the majority of respondents indicated they thought the new structure was “unfair” and didn’t understand why they should have to pay more money for the same level of services. They said that through the new structure homeowners in poorer suburbs would be subsidising those in wealthier suburbs.
In the 2020 to 2021 financial year, the average Marrickville homeowner is paying around $765. Under the harmonised scheme, that amount will increase to $908.
Other respondents cited financial hardship as a reason to oppose the new structure, with one asking “why is my rates bill going up by over $200 when my income has not increased?”
Council clashes over rates
In response to the community’s backlash, an extraordinary meeting was held.
At the meeting Darcy Byrne tabled a motion which would refuse to carry out the NSW Government’s directive to harmonise rates across the council area. He questioned why the council should cooperate with the directive when they were not able to apply for funds through the NSW Government’s $252 million council grants scheme.
“The Government is trying to force up rates on many residents in the Inner West and despite having promised to legislate a phase-in period they have failed to do so,” Mayor Byrne said.
“The Government told everyone prior to their botched forced amalgamations that rates would go down for residents not up.”
Mr. Byrne’s motion did not pass. Nor did a Greens motion, revealed during the meeting itself, calling for rates to stay as they were for the three previous Councils.
Independent councillor John Stamolis slammed the motions introduced by both parties as ignoring the years of research put in by council staff to “develop a fair and balanced rates harmonisation.” He told the Inner West Independent he saw the meeting as “yet another Labor vs Greens phoney contest.”
“For two parties who talk about fairness and equity their motions didn’t even consider delivering fair outcomes for ratepayers,” he said.
“In fact, their arrogance delivered no outcome at all.”
But for Mr. Byrne, it was a matter of principle.
“If the Government thinks that having systematically rorted the people of the Inner West that we will now roll over and happily implement their rates increases then they’ve got another thing coming,” he said.