Rates debate: Where Mandurah and Murray rates are going - and how it compares to elsewhere

Council consideration: The Shire of Murray and City of Mandurah have enforced 2 and 2.5 per cent rate increases respectively for 2019-20, which sits in the mid-range when comparing percentage hikes across the state. Photos: Mandurah Mail.
Council consideration: The Shire of Murray and City of Mandurah have enforced 2 and 2.5 per cent rate increases respectively for 2019-20, which sits in the mid-range when comparing percentage hikes across the state. Photos: Mandurah Mail.

Homeowners across Western Australia have received, or are waiting to receive, a letter from their local council that few will relish.

The annual issue of local government rates is hotly debated in the media, around dinner tables and at community gatherings - with 2019-20's offering no exception.

With people doing it tough and household bills showing no sign of reducing, council rates add an extra financial burden on WA families.

Those in local government argue rates are needed to fund infrastructure projects in our suburbs and to add requested facilities in our communities.

They say rates allow the council to provide essential services, empty our bins and maintain our public spaces.

With inflation rising, local government representatives also say rates must increase as a consequence.

However, a public debate has been ensuing this year around the issue, with many people suggesting if local councils were more stringent with existing funds, the need for rates hikes would not be there.

Talk of a rates freeze has also been coined.

With our rates notices having arrived or in the post, this week we have looked at how this area compares to others across WA.

The City of Mandurah council has adopted a 2.5 per cent rates increase for 2019-20.

This has been broken down to a 1.5 per cent increase to cover costs and inflation and a 1 per cent increase to fund future economic development plans.

These plans include the city centre waterfront precinct, Nambeelup industrial area and Murray Airfield.

Mandurah mayor Rhys Williams said the City's primary focus was to ensure the "economic wellbeing" of the local community.

"There is no doubt that parts of our community are facing challenges - unemployment and underemployment is an ongoing issue and people generally have less money to spend in our local business, putting pressure on our retail sector," he said.

"Sadly, Mandurah isn't immune to the cyclical down-turn in our national economy.

"Community, government and business need to keep working together to increase confidence in the long-run, while also supporting our businesses and our community with practical interventions now."

The Shire of Murray adopted a 2 per cent increase at their August 1 council meeting, with your hard-earned money to be spent on "infrastructure improvements, environment protection, economic development and community support and service-based initiatives"

RATES DEBATE: Homeowners are being stung with council rates at the moment, which add financial pressures to families. Photo: Shutterstock.

RATES DEBATE: Homeowners are being stung with council rates at the moment, which add financial pressures to families. Photo: Shutterstock.

Shire president David Bolt said the council had balanced the desire to limit the increase for ratepayers with the need to maintain a sustainable financial position.

"Over the course of the next financial year the Shire will, through collaborative relationships and a combination of revenue sources, continue to improve quality of life in Murray through project delivery, investment attraction, district level planning, tourism and place-making," he said.

Major projects to be funded by Shire of Murray rates include the Dwellingup National Trails Centre, Agri-Innovation Precinct and Murray River Square and Foreshore Redevelopment.

Rate increases of between 2 and 2.5 per cent seem to be typical in both metropolitan and regional areas.

At the higher end of the scale, the City of Rockingham's rates have increased 3.6 per cent and the Town of Port Hedland have had a 4 per cent spike.

On the other side of the coin, the City of Melville have only approved a 1.1 per cent rise.

In the Wheatbelt, the Shire of Northam has adopted a 2.25 per cent increase, with a 2.5 per cent jump in York and Toodyay.

In the South West, Shire of Dardanup residents will be hit with a 4 per cent increase, with the City of Busselton adopting a 3.95 per cent jump and the Shire of Harvey passing a 3.5 per cent hike.

The City of Bunbury and Shire of Capel both passed a 3 per cent increase, while the Shire of Collie had the most modest jump in the region at 1.55 per cent.

The Western Australian Local Government Association (WALGA) is the peak industry body representing councils across the state.

WALGA president Lynne Craigie said rates formed an essential part of local government revenue and their capacity to fund infrastructure and services for the benefit of their community.

"Together with their communities, councils make a decision on the level of services they wish to provide, assess their costs and the revenue they can secure from other sources and set rates according to what is required to deliver the agreed level of service," she said.

"To impose a freeze on rates would place undue pressure on councils' long-term financial management, a process already under pressure from diminishing contributions by other spheres of government.

"In other jurisdictions, rates caps have proven to have adverse impacts on infrastructure renewal.

"In some cases, when rates are kept artificially low by a council, significant increases are then required a few years later in order to 'catch up' on the renewals that were deferred as unaffordable at the time."

Local government minister David Templeman said council rates were an emotive topic.

"Many people are doing it tough at the moment and tightening their belts," he said.

"The McGowan government has made some tough decisions to freeze the salaries of politicians and public servants and I would urge local governments to follow our lead.

"Local governments are large independent bodies and are responsible for managing their budgets. As such, the state government has no role in the setting of rates.

"I fully understand the arguments behind freezing rates and I am sympathetic to those who advocate for them.

"However, I also understand the complexities of local government budgeting and the flow on impact rate freezes can have on local sporting, community and charity groups who rely on subsidised support from the sector.

"I also believe local councils need to explain clearly why they might propose rate increases and justify this with their community.

"I am currently undertaking a review of the Local Government Act 1995. Submissions to the second phase recently closed, and we are currently analysing responses in relation to rate setting, and investigating options in this area.

"People who are unhappy with their rates notice can request a review of the gross rental value of their property, which is the basis for their rates, and of course they can have their say at the local government elections in October.

"Councils are required to advertise their rates and people should express their views to their council if they don't agree with what is proposed."