By STEVE KELLY
COUNCIL is more likely than not to keep a municipal rate rise under the State Government’s recommended 3.5 per cent maximum figure for 2023–24 to ease the burden on rural city homeowners, according to Mayor Dean Rees.
With inflation at 7.8pc in the December quarter and rising mortgage interest rates squeezing family budgets even further, Cr Rees “has a feeling” council will opt for the reprieve option prior to the draft budget being released for community engagement in April.
The increase in general municipal rates in 20222–23 was 1.75pc, way below the consumer price index inflation that put a strain on council services across Victoria.
“At this stage we haven’t decided, we are having very, very robust conversations about it and I have a feeling we won’t go the full 3.5pc,” he told the Wangaratta Chronicle.
“Even though the State Government thinks 3.5pc is fair and it’s down from the 4.2pc rise the independent assessment panel thinks it should be, I personally feel it’s too high.
“For the tough times ahead over the next 12 or 18 months, we need to cut our budget and make sure we look at things correctly and this includes the rate cap.”
Cr Rees reported there are currently some councillors who would like to keep the 3.5pc and there are certainly others who are saying it should be lower.
“It will be an interesting council meeting regarding where the vote goes,” he said.
“It’s a hard time for people…Deputy Mayor Harry Bussell and I think we need to have a fair go for everyone and sometimes that means council has to bite the bullet and reduce spending. “We might need to look at renewal rather than budget for new infrastructure projects and then we can look at it again next year.”
Cr Rees said senior council staff indicated that if we lose $300–$400k out of the budget now, it has a cumulative effect equating to $3–4 million in 10 years time.
He said this might be right but he believes council needs to look at people’s immediate hardship above anything else.
“In recent years we’ve had big spends with the Barr Reserve‘s aquatic centre and basketball courts, a State Government grant for netball courts and we have so many communities calling out for more money,” he said.