A tough choice

Mt Barker Councillors faced a difficult decision this week when they elected to raise their rates by an average of 5%.
With increasing Federal and State Government fees and charges and cuts to entitlements, many ratepayers are set to feel the financial pinch and several had pleaded with the council to minimise the burden it would place on their hip pockets.
No doubt they will be disappointed – some bitterly so – with the result that leaves the rate hike for 2014/15 as planned.
As Cr Simon Westwood said, it won’t be a popular decision.
The split in the vote (four voting against the budget, five for it) shows the difficulty the council faced in making the choice, weighing up compassion and concern for its community against the pressures impacting on its bottom line.
But governments, including councils, are elected to make the tough calls to secure the best outcome for their communities.
For several years the Mt Barker Council has minimised its rate rise, and on occasion lowered it at the community’s request.
However, now the council finds itself in an unenviable position.
It cannot ignore the demands placed on it by the State Government’s decision in 2010 to rezone enough land to more than double the town’s population.
As Cr Susan Hamilton points out, it must look to the future: not the next 12 months, but beyond to the next decade.
It will be a time of growing pains as the district struggles to provide the new infrastructure and services required to meet that growth.
But, as Cr Hamilton also pointed out, delaying those projects will not make them any cheaper in future.
Instead, it would arguably place the community at a greater risk of much larger rate increases in coming years.
It is a hard truth but Cr Trevor Corbell is also right when he says that the council is not a “de facto welfare agency”.
It has a very limited budget and a very lengthy list of responsibilities that continues to grow with Federal and State Government cost-shifting.
It cannot ignore those responsibilities simply because the top two tiers of government have made unpalatable choices with far-reaching consequences.
In fact, the council itself is a victim of those decisions, losing $239,000 in road funding.
It has had to make cuts and has chosen to do so in response to community concerns, for example axing $80,000 for the Hoot! Jazz Festival.
No council would enjoy raising rates – least of all in an election year. However, it made the difficult decision not to go into debt to deliver ratepayers a modest saving.