11.7% rate shock

By Bridget Brady and Jade Lawton
CASEY’S methane gas mess has forced a brutal 11.69 per cent rate rise on ratepayers.
The rate hike – the biggest in Casey’s history – will fund the clean-up of the Brookland Greens debacle.
Almost half of the rate rise, 5.5 per cent, will be spent on the Stevensons Road landfill.
The rate rise is part of the council’s $220 million 2010-11 draft budget.
Berwick pensioner Bob Burns said the rate rise was ‘ridiculous and absolutely unacceptable.’
“I think people will get a substantial shock,” he said. “They’ve basically saddled Casey ratepayers with a massive debt for years in to the future.”
Mayor Lorraine Wreford said residents had been left to foot the bill of the disastrous gas leak after the State Government so far refused to contribute towards clean-up costs.
Chief executive officer Mike Tyler estimated the long-term remediation costs could exceed $100 million in the next 20 years.
“We have faced an unprecedented financial challenged and we have had to make some very difficult decisions,” Cr Wreford said.
These decisions, Cr Wreford said, were out of the council’s direct control.
Cr Wreford said the council had lobbied the State Government for the past 18 months, requesting the government to pay $41.9 million to help ease the financial burden.
Deputy mayor Shar Balmes said it was not fair that Casey ratepayers had to bear the brunt of the costs when council originally rejected the development of the Brookland Greens estate up to the closed landfill boundary.
VCAT over-ruled the council’s decision in 2004, which allowed development past a 200-metre buffer zone.
Cr Wreford said the City of Casey had always prided itself on maintaining low rate rises.
“Council has acted responsibly and has gone above and beyond to address the entire situation,” Cr Wreford said.
Cr Balmes said it hurt the council to enforce this year’s rate rise.
“It hurts us to burden the ratepayers, but by the same token we have obligations and they have to be met,” she said.
But Local Government Minister Richard Wynne laid the blame with council.
“It is regrettable that Casey City Council has chosen to burden local families with this rate increase after failing to present an adequate business case for State Government support, as has been requested,” he said.
“It is disappointing this has not occurred and I suggest council work with the State Government and not against it.”
Mr Wynne said the council was responsible for the clean up of the site.
Cr Wreford said that, as always, the council’s hardship policy would apply for residents facing financial difficulty.
The draft budget is on public exhibition until 18 June. Copies are available at Casey Customer Service Centres and online.
The council will consider any written submissions and adopt the budget at a special council meeting on 22 June.

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