Shire of Augusta-Margaret River council supports possible 4.9 per cent rates hike for 2024-25

Warren HatelyAugusta Margaret River Times
New councillor Melissa D'Ath moved to cut fees for ratepayers paying their rates in instalments.
Camera IconNew councillor Melissa D'Ath moved to cut fees for ratepayers paying their rates in instalments. Credit: Sean Hsu/RegionalHUB

The Shire of Augusta-Margaret River wants to hit ratepayers with a 4.9 per cent increase in rates despite record growth in new properties during the past year.

More than 350 new rateable properties were added to the shire’s income stream during the 2023-24 financial year, representing 3.4 per cent growth on top of the previous record 3.1 per cent growth in 2022-23.

The proposed 4.9 per cent increase was adopted for public advertising on Wednesday night, with new councillor Melissa D’Ath adding changes to cut fees for those paying via instalments and reduce interest charges by 0.5 per cent.

While the figures confirmed the shire was experiencing a rapid increase in population, finance staff argued it meant cost pressures were greater than ever.

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When rates were increased 4.75 per cent last year, budget papers warned future rises could be higher.

After 2022’s 4 per cent hike, then-shire president Paula Cristoffanini pledged councillors would help find greater efficiencies to minimise the flow-on to ratepayers.

But this week’s budget papers reiterated that the lower rates increases during the pandemic could no longer be supported.

“To ensure sound long-term financial management, rate increases can no longer continue at a rate below that of cost increases,” the report said.

“Council are extremely conscious of the impact rate increases can have upon the community, particularly in light of other cost-of-living pressures.

“At the same time, it is necessary for the shire to continue offering the services, facilities and infrastructure required for the community to thrive.

“For this reason, the rate yield increase has been set at a level that supports the financial sustainability of the shire after taking measures to incorporate increased efficiency into its budgetary process so as to not unnecessarily burden ratepayers.”

Prior to Wednesday night’s decision, acting shire president Tracey Muir defended the steep increase by saying growth brought fresh challenges.

“Our community continues to grow and like everyone we’re faced with rising costs,” she said.

“There’s been 354 new homes built in our shire since last August, which generates more income from rates and at the same time increases the investment needed from the community to support that growth.”

Cr Muir said in 2022-23 alone, the council “inherited” $14.9m of assets including roads, parks and footpaths from land subdivisions which the community had to maintain in perpetuity.

“To ensure we can continue to fund all the services our community expects and deserves, we are proposing a 4.9 per cent rate increase which equates to $2 a week for the average household,” she said.

The council voted to form an officer-led “revenue diversification” project last month, acknowledging rates income funded most of the local government’s operations, which was bolstered by fees and charges also predominantly paid by ratepayers as well.

In the 2022-23 financial year, 58 per cent of the shire’s income was derived from rates, while fees and charges were the second biggest income stream, accounting for 29 per cent of income.

Slightly lower rates rise scenarios were also considered but were judged not to generate the revenue needed.

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