Rates brunt on industry

Laura Newell and Taylar AmoniniNorth West Telegraph

Town of Port Hedland residents could be hit with a 2.5 per cent increase in rates next financial year.

The decision to put the rate increase proposal forward to the next stage was made by the council at its meeting last Wednesday, with all seven voting councillors agreeing on the decision.

Cr Troy Melville did not vote, declaring a financial interest.

The rates schedule will now go out for public consultation.

According to the Town, the increase is needed to “improve financial rations, reportable (financial) health and ability to meet community and business expectations in relation to service delivery and asset renewal”.

While the local government’s financial health is considered “adequate”, it is lagging behind when it comes to asset sustainability.

The March monthly financial health check, also tabled at Wednesday’s meeting, shows that while the Town’s asset sustainability ratio minimum target is 90 per cent, the year-to-date performance is just 47 per cent.

The ratio measures whether the Town is replacing or renewing existing non-financial interests at the same rate as its overall asset stock is wearing out.

The percentage rate in the dollar increase, which is the same for the gross rental values residential, GRV commercial, GRV tourist accommodation, unimproved values mining and UV pastoral categories, is a modest rise when compared with the 25 per cent increase for GRV industrial.

However, the industrial rate in the dollar amount is the lowest of all categories at 3.4411¢ in the dollar. Residential ratepayers are going to be charged 5.5426¢ in the dollar.

The new minimum rates amount for the residential category is $1350, up from $1260 this year.

All other categories, with the exception of UV mining set at $270, will now have a minimum payment amount of $2000.

A new category, GRV commercial and industrial — vacant, has also been created with a 11.0825 rate in the dollar to encourage landowners to develop vacant land.

Port Hedland Chamber of Commerce president Jim Henneberry said while the chamber stood by councillors’ decisions and trusted their knowledge on the matter, the new rating category was unjust.

“If the market cannot sustain more commercial developments and industrial developments and its not the owners’ fault,” he said.

“They’re being penalised by having additional rates put on them when the current economic climate for development is not a priority.

“At its base, it’s totally counterproductive to the actual current marketplace and we shouldn’t have such a rate increase in the current economic environment.”

The report councillors were given to consider ahead of their rates decision said the development of vacant land was “in the best interests of the community, increasing street appeal and vibrancy of town centres and encouraging the introduction of local businesses, further improving and strengthening the economy”.

In recommending the new rates schedule to the council, management accountant Jodi Marchant said the increase in the GRV industrial category would “assist in balancing the rates burden across the rating differential categories, with the current rate for industrial not accurately reflecting the use of council resources and infrastructure”.

It is estimated the rates model will yield $26,009,364 for the Town in 2017-18 and the changes to the commercial and industrial category and addition of the vacant land category will reduce the rates burden on residential-category ratepayers from 65 per cent of total yield this year to 61 per cent next year.

The residential increase means homeowners with a GRV of $500 a week, or $26,000 a year, will be paying rates of $1441 compared with $1405 last year.

Ratepayers Association spokesman Arnold Carter said the association was not consulted for the proposed budget for 2017-18.

“This time last year we had already had three to four meetings and discussions with the Town and above all had an input in the final figures of the Town finances,” he said.

“This year we have had nothing whatsoever, it’s very hard to make comment on a proposed budget when we haven’t even been given it.”

The rating strategy vote came on the back of a passionate speech from Mayor Camilo Blanco to councillors warning them the “business as usual approach” to the Town’s financial position couldn’t be continued and called for unanimous decisions.

“This is not an easy road, but it’s the right path to take,” he said.

“I’m asking (the) council to become united and the community to support the council with changes required to achieve the success of the future.

“If unity cannot be achieved, I will have no hesitation in writing to the department of local government requesting this council be disbanded and a commissioner be appointed.”

Speaking to the Telegraph after the meeting, Mr Blanco said the whole administration structure had been based around income they didn’t have and he was disappointed previous motions to reduce spending had not been agreed on.

“At end of day I have what I want to do, but you do need support of (the) council,” he said.

“You need a united council. I’m quite prepared to go down the road of putting Port Hedland into administration because I’ve lived here all my life, I love this place and I will not see it go backwards.”

Get the latest news from thewest.com.au in your inbox.

Sign up for our emails