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Land rate hikes get a rethink

Alicia PereraNorth West Telegraph
Town of Port Hedland.
Camera IconTown of Port Hedland. Credit: Mitchell Smith

The Department of Local Government and Communities has signalled it would turn down the Town of Port Hedland’s move to slug owners of vacant commercial and industrial land a rate of 11.0852 cents in the dollar.

The State Government agency’s move has forced the Town to consider adjusting the new category’s proposed rate to pass its local government budget on time. The Town had created a new category of GRV Commercial and Industrial —Vacant Land in its 2017-18 rating strategy in May but the increase would have required them to apply to the department for ministerial approval for its intended 11.0852¢/dollar rate given it exceeded by two times the minimum rate.

However, in a response from the State department, a senior legislation and strategy officer said the proposed rates hike was not supported because there was “nothing that justifies” the significant increase ratepayers would receive as a result.

“This will need to be reconsidered by council,” the officer said.

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It comes after the local government received five statements from affected landowners in objection.

With passage of the Town budget looming, councillors were due to consider alternatives at a special council meeting on Monday evening, in which the officer’s recommendation was to amend the rate to 6.155¢ in the dollar — the maximum amount possible without the need for ministerial approval.

Port Hedland Mayor Camilo Blanco said the original proposed rate, which was based on double the residential rate in the dollar, was intended to promote development of vacant commercial land and “very comparable” to similar rating categories at other WA local governments.

However, he said an adjusted rate of 6.155¢/dollar would still fulfil that purpose.

“As explained in the statement of objects and reasons, the motivation behind this rate was to encourage the development of vacant commercial and industrial land,” he said.

“Reduction of the original proposed rate to 6.1555 will still encourage land owners to develop their vacant land as the rate will drop back to the developed land RID for industrial or commercial land once this vacant land is developed.”

Port Hedland Ratepayers’ Association president John Peters said the group was against any increase in rates in the current economic climate and even a 6.155¢ rate on vacant commercial land was “not business friendly” towards struggling organisations.

“We consider this rate as a punitive rate rise, because ... council has said the rate is to encourage landholders to make productive use of the land and what we are seeing here is that economic conditions are not favourable to the businesses,” he said.

“It is ludicrous that businesses are already squeezed and council is putting more pressure on those who are contributing to the town.”

The council also proposed a reduction of the vacant commercial land category’s minimum rate, to $1180, so that fewer than half of its properties would be subject to that limit in line with regulations.

Mr Blanco said councillors did not want to delay adopting the budget to further debate rating strategies, because it could interfere with delivery of major construction works and limit them to core services.

All other Town rating categories submitted to the department were supported by the government agency.

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