Councillors showdown over rates

There's a storm over rates at Lakeside. Picture: ADEL SARTAWI

By Gabriella Payne

The Cardinia Shire Council meeting on Monday 21 June was always set to be a big one with the adoption of the budget and council plan on the agenda – but the marathon two and a half hour meeting was more heated than anyone expected, as two councillors argued back and forth over a rate disagreement, putting on a show for all those watching.

Item 6.1.1 on the agenda, the council plan, was adopted unanimously without a hitch but when Councillor Collin Ross put forward an alternate motion for item 6.1.2, the proposed budget, all hell began to break loose.

Cr Ross shared his concerns with fellow councillors over a change in the budget that would see a small group of residents, specifically those living in Pakenham’s Lakeside estate, receive a small “discount” to their rates – something he didn’t agree with.

“There will be 2,403 residents that will get a discount on their rates,” Cr Ross said.

“But if one group gets a discount, another has to pay for it.

“[That means that] there will be 24,832 residents who will pay 1% more to compensate for the discounts,” he explained in his opening remarks, adding that he thought that this was “wrong” and unfair.

Councillor Stephanie Davies, whose constituents include those in the Lakeside estate, clearly took offence to these comments and swung back at Cr Ross, calling his alternate motion a “massive last minute change” that could have “significant ramifications” across the Cardinia Shire.

“I’m very wary when any alternate motion comes as a surprise,” Cr Davies said.

“Our decisions need to be made with care and transparency.”

Cr Davies noted that the 2,403 Lakeside residents in question were her constituents, and in fact they had paid a “rate surcharge” for years to cater for the amount of maintenance work required in the estate.

She argued that, seeing as residents from all over Cardinia Shire benefited from using the parklands throughout Lakeside, the “surcharge” had finally and rightly been removed in this year’s budget after extensive debate, and it was unfair for Cr Ross to spring this alternate motion on the council at the last minute.

“The rate surcharge on Lakeside has finally been nullified, so why should they foot the bill for the additional maintenance?” Cr Davies asked.

“This alternate motion removes the chance for fairness for Lakeside’s ratepayers.”

After hearing from other councillors who advocated for fairness across the board, Cr Ross began his summary with some colourful and emotive language that Cr Davies was not happy with – and for the rest of the meeting, she let him know it.

Over the span of the evening, Cr Davies called a ‘point of order’ on Cr Ross five times, interrupting many of his statements in a bid to hold him to account – finding a particular problem with his use of the word “discount”.

After Mayor Brett Owen clarified that the Lakeside residents were “not getting a discount” and said that in fact, they “are paying the same as everyone in the growth corridor”, Cr Ross continued to use the controversial word – sparking outrage and arguments throughout the meeting.

Once the drama had died down, a vote was conducted and while Cr Ross gained three votes for his motion, it was ultimately lost, with five councillors voting against it – meaning the budget, as is, was eventually passed.

The secretary of the Lakeside Residents Group, Tony O’Hara agreed that it had been quite the council meeting to watch and said on behalf of the group, they believed the right decision had been made in the end.

“I think I can safely say that Lakeside residents have for years paid an extra surcharge on the rates and the potential of it being reduced is encouraging for our community,’ Mr O’Hara said.

“Some of the features of Lakeside are available to the whole of Cardinia Shire residents, not just for Lakeside, and we think it only fair that everyone pays for these things.”