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Analysis / Council votes in favour of increasing fees and charges

A Special Council Meeting to adopt the 2020 / 2021 Schedule of Fees and Charges was held this afternoon with a motion to pass the proposed Schedule carried.

NATALIE JOHNSON


A Special Council Meeting to adopt the 2020 / 2021 Schedule of Fees and Charges was held this afternoon with a motion to pass the proposed Schedule carried.


The special meeting came after Cr Zammataro last week moved an amendment to place a 12-month freeze on current Council fees and charges rather than pass a motion to adopt an average 2.2% (CPI) rise.

The amendment was not successful, and Mayor Kerr, after discussions with Councillors revealed a desire by all Councillors to revisit the Schedule, moved a second motion, passed unanimously, to defer the adoption of the 2020 / 2021 Schedule of Fees and Charges to allow further time for consideration.
After voting to defer the motion initially, Mayor Kerr, in a press release after the meeting on 2 June advised he would “be putting forward the Fees and Charges motion as is, again at the next meeting.” (1)


At today’s meeting, Mayor Kerr reintroduced the motion to adopt the 2020/ 2021 Schedule of Fees and Charges, acknowledging both the work Council Officers had completed on the proposed Schedule and the fact Douglas Shire was in COVID-19 recovery. Mayor Kerr highlighted the $179 000 suite of relief measures Council had already adopted in April 2020 which, “have contributed largely to the predicted $1.4 million deficit now forecasted by this Council for this financial year – a long way from the surplus that was predicted.” (2)

In arguing his case for accepting an increase to the bulk of fees and charges, Mayor Kerr noted Council must recoup its costs in this area.”

Given fees and charges are calculated based on a user-pays system.

Having a case where our ratepayers could potentially be contributing to these user pays services brought about by a lower than required rate increase would be ludicrous

MAYOR KERR

Last week, DNN broke down the proposed Schedule of Fees and Charges, noting the increase was not a ‘blanket’ rise of 2.2%, with no increase to categories under ‘Planning Services’.

Planning Services include fees and charges associated primarily with development – Material Change of Use Applications, Reconfiguring a lot (Reconfiguration and Survey Plans), Operational Works (Associated with Reconfiguration of Land, Vegetation Damage, Changes or Extensions to Applications/Approvals, Planning and Development Certificates and request to consider an application under a superseded planning scheme and Landscaping Plans.

Also reported were the introduction of low season fees for stallholders at the Port Douglas markets and the reconfiguration and reduction of venue hire charges specifically for Rex Smeal Park and the Sugar Wharf. The exemption of fees for not for profits on all venues excluding the Sugar Wharf also passed.
All other categories attracted an approximate rise of 2.2%. (3)


Speaking against the motion, Cr Zammataro argued,

the proposed rise of 2.2%, is not going to make a huge difference to Councils bottom line, so it’s hard to argue Council relies on this revenue to continue to provide services.

CR ZAMMATARO

Cr Zammataro added it could be argued “any rise for the already struggling ratepayers of the Shire will create further financial hardship.”

Any rise for the already struggling ratepayers of the Shire will create further financial hardship

CR ZAMMATARO

The projected loss of revenue to Council, had fees and charges been frozen, was estimated at $123 234.
Concluding his argument, Cr Zammataro finished,

The community is hurting, and in a lot of cases, more than one member of the family has lost an income

CR ZAMMATARO

Cr Noli, also a supporter of freezing fees and charges, first commended the staff on their hard work regarding the proposed Schedule, noting “every year since de-amalgamation there (had) been improvements and this year is no different.”
Supporting Cr Zammataro, Cr Noli stated, “with the announcement Australia is now in recession, my resolution to help Douglas has become even stronger,” arguing that the freezing of fees and charges was possible due to the

prudent and clever financial management by the previous Council (setting) Douglas up perfectly

CR NOLI

enabling Council to “weather this year and still ensure the community’s needs, wants and desires are adequately and sustainability met.”

Cr Noli further argued a freezing of fees and charges was a relief measure Council could adopt now, noting there may not be any choice in the direction Council would have to take in considering general rates in the looming budget.

Both Cr’s Zammataro and Noli observed other Councils had set a precedent by freezing fees and charges, adding the Schedule could be revisited during the year if the economic conditions improved.
Cr’s McKeown and Scomazzon disagreed, with Cr McKeown advising those he had spoken with over the past week “did not believe a 2.2% increase was out of the ordinary” noting Council had already provided some relief with other measures undertaken.

Cr Scomazzon, who previously stated on 2 April 2020 that freezing our rates and fees is something we can look at doing to help our community” (4) agreed with Cr McKeown, believing the CPI increase, had meant some of the fees and charges had reduced or not increased, concluding “it is pretty across the board average … (and)
think it works out pretty well for everybody involved.”

Freezing our rates and fees is something we can look at doing to help our community

CR SCOMAZZON

The Douglas Shire Ratepayers Association noted on 5 June 2020, “now is not the time for increases in fees and charges. It is a time for Council to undertake a diligent review of all expenditure,” arguing it was “reasonable to expect that Council take all necessary action to enable a freeze on rate increase for 20/21.” (5)


The 2020 / 2021 Schedule of Fees and Charges was adopted 3 – 2. The next Ordinary Council Meeting is due to be held on Tuesday 30 June and expected to focus predominantly on the 2020/2021 Budget.

REFERENCES

(1) https://douglas.qld.gov.au/20-21-fees-and-charges-deferred/
(2) https://douglas.qld.gov.au/council-unveils-covid-19-relief-package/
(3) https://douglas.qld.gov.au/download/council_meetings/meeting_agendas/3.1-Schedule-of-Fees-
and-Charges-2020-2021.pdf
(4) https://www.newsport.com.au/2020/march/lisa-scomazzon-eager-to-get-down-to-business-and-get-shire-through-coronavirus/
(5) https://douglasratepayers.org.au/news/9022019


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