Darebin City Council’s decision to raise rates and services charges while they welcomed a $3.7 million surplus in the 20/21 draft budget was called “self-focused protectionism” by Ratepayers Victoria.
The council would raise rates by 2 per cent, the maximum the state government would allow, some services charges by more than 25 per cent, slash its capital works budget by $20 million and enter the 20/21 financial year with a $3.7 million surplus, draft budget papers said.
Ratepayers Victoria president Dean Hurlston called the rises “really disappointing” and said councils like Darebin would “gouge their way back to more profit”.
“They’re meant to be community-focused organisations, but this is self-focused protectionism,” Mr Hurlston said.
Darebin Ratepayers Association president Anne Laver called the rise in services charges and fees “completely unreasonable” and said “councils all do it”.
“They’ve just got some view that they’ve got free rein to raise fees and prices whenever they want to,” Ms Laver said.
And Darebin Progress Association secretary Marion Harper said the council needed to be “more sympathetic to the community” after the COVID-19 pandemic.
“We have many low-income families in this area who have lost their jobs, who are struggling with food, rental, mortgage and all other services,” Ms Harper said.
But Darebin mayor councillor Susan Rennie said the council wasn’t alone in raising rates and that the entire rate increase would go towards an $11.3 million COVID-19 recovery package which she believed was “the most generous in the state”.
“Every cent of the additional rates will effectively go into COVID-19 recovery and that equals across all ratepayers in Darebin about $1 a week,” Cr Rennie said.
Cr Rennie also defended the surplus which she claimed was required by the Victorian Auditor General’s Office and would go into the capital works budget which was slashed after the council lost around $18 million in income due to COVID-19.
“We’ve had to cut capital works because council’s income has been hit so significantly.”
Yet Councillor Gaetano Greco said the rate increase showed the council was behaving “as if it’s business as usual” and that the slashed capital works budget “means $20 million will be sucked out of the local economy”.
“As a result of that we will see less plumbers, less tradies, less maintenance workers, less labourers, less people being employed at a time when jobs are needed,” Cr Greco said.
“It’s very insensitive and not a very compassionate way forward for the council at the moment.”