Rate cap rejection

The State Government’s decision to scrap its controversial rate capping plan is hardly surprising.
After months of consultation the Liberal party last week introduced an updated Local Government Reform Bill which dropped its key election promise.
The plan had been strongly opposed by the local government sector, which described it as a blunt instrument that would unnecessarily impede councils, give the Local Government Minister exorbitant powers to override council decision making and create extra layers of bureaucracy.
The new Bill instead requires councils to have their long-term financial plans and rate increases scrutinised by an independent organisation every three years.
On paper setting a limit of how high a council can set its rate increases each year may seem like a good way to keep household costs down.
On a backdrop of rising cost of living pressures, it’s the kind of fix that’s likely to appeal to the masses at election time.
However, the proposal was a populist plan which had little chance of ever being implemented or supported, particularly by the Local Government sector which has, over many years, absorbed a range of new costs and fee hikes imposed by the State Government.
The reform did not come about without reason – over the years some councils have been less than prudent with ratepayers’ money.
But capping rate increases and giving a Minister the power to override decisions appears to be a far too heavy-handed approach to keeping councils honest.
Despite that, while it seems as though the reforms might have been doomed from the beginning, the review process does seem to have done some good.
Mt Barker Mayor Ann Ferguson believes it forced councils to examine their operations, assess their systems and structures and find areas of improvement.
That undoubtedly is a positive.
Further, a behavioral standards panel will be created in an attempt to limit the costs associated with internal and legal disputes, including Code of Conduct investigations.
The review process might have brought about the end of the Government’s promise to limit cost increases felt by the ratepayer, but it appears it has not been a completely fruitless exercise.