Some interesting Q and A's from the City of Greater Geraldton

On Monday, 10 August 2015 the City Executive Management Team met with Community Summit participants and presented the 2015/16 budget and how outcomes of the Community Summit informed the budget process.

During the briefing, Summit Participants were able to ask questions, some of which CEO, Ken Diehm, answered during the session.  Summit participants were also invited to review the documents presented at the briefing and submit any questions they had relating to the budget byFriday 21 August. 

The City has collated all the questions asked during the briefing and those received since and provided responses.

Budget Briefing Questions and Answers

a. With a 25% increase in rates what’s the money value of this increase?  

In some cases, the increase in property valuations has equated to $100s and in some case $1000s of dollars in increases in rates for individual rate payers.

b. How does the City tell or let the Valuer General know what the properties are worth so the valuations are more realistic?  

The City is not involved with property evaluations it is done by the state government, specifically the Valuer General. Property valuations were completed in 2014, so they aren’t necessarily accurate to today’s values. In the valuation process, the Valuer General looks at what properties could be rented at and makes estimates accordingly. These are estimates and are not about what your property is worth rather, what you could rent that property out for. If you are interested in a rule of thumb calculation just take your rates notice and divide it by 52 and if you think you could have rented your property out for that weekly amount 12 months ago, then your valuation is likely to be correct. If there is a significant difference then you may want to consider appealing the valuation by submitting a written query to the Valuer General’s Office within 60 days of receiving your Annual Rates Notice or Interim Rates Notice.

c. Why did Council manipulate the valuations increase at the expense of others?  

People live at their properties and are subject to valuation increase or decreases which occur at no fault of their own. Council has decided to cushion or soften the blow of these large increases so that they these rate payers don’t suffer the results of huge fluctuations in property valuations. The valuation is nothing more than a tax which is based on the perception of people’s capacity to pay according to their property valuation - not the services provided to each rate payer. The phasing in of valuation increases over three years using concessions ensures that all property owners are not unfairly penalised as a result of large valuation increases.

d. How much information does the council take from the community and put forward to the Valuer General so they can more accurately assess the value of properties? Do they take into account the level of development or the downturn in the economy?  

The City can have discussions with the Valuer General about the economy and development going on in the areas but the Valuer General looks at the rental value of properties in a point in time and this point is about 12 months before the evaluations are made public. There is no ability for the City to manoeuvre or influence this process. We can raise these issues with them but we can’t make changes to the valuations. Also, the Valuer General doesn’t attempt to predict what market conditions could be in 12 months’ time. They base their valuations on what the properties could be rented for at that particular time.

e. Are cricket wickets still being funded? What about boat ramps?  

The City has identified significant inequities in provision of services to sporting clubs. Some clubs get a lot of assistance from the City and other clubs in the same sport get none. There is currently no policy or process to determine who gets funding and who doesn’t. We don’t want to reduce the amount of funding we provide to clubs, however, we want to provide a level playing field so funding is allocated in a more equitable and transparent way. The City has partnered with the Mid West Sports Federation and is working together with them to develop an equitable scheme so every sports club gets a fair share. The scheme will need to have a transparent and accountable process so people understand why they are getting the amount of funding and services they receive. Until the scheme is implemented we will maintain the service we are providing.

We aren’t building a new boat ramp in the West End we are renewing the existing finger jetty to make it safe. This project is 75% funded by the State Government.

f. In regard to community grants, is it possible to invite the groups that have experienced cuts and discuss how these groups can survive in the future? This will allow groups to come up with suggestions on how to become sustainable.  

The City is always working with community groups to build their capacity and network like-minded groups so they can learn from and support each other. A revised Community Grants Policy has recently been endorsed by Council and once the first round is offered we will be able to see where assistance in the community is required and look at how this can be provided.

g. Is the City planning to refit playgrounds with new equipment as the kids need something to do in the parks?  

A report on the condition of play equipment located in parks across the City region conducted by industry specialists has been completed and submitted to the City for review.

$349,000 has been allocated in this year’s budget to fund the renewal of playground equipment. However, according to the report it would cost an estimated $1.7M to replace all of the play equipment.

To assist in prioritising which parks will have their play equipment repaired or replaced the City is utilising the Public Open Space Strategy.

Playground equipment in parks listed as high priority in the strategy will be replaced progressively in the next few months. Until this work is completed, the fences will remain in place to ensure community safety.

Where parks have had their equipment removed or identified as non-compliant and are not listed as high priority in the strategy, these may not be replaced in the near future.

A report to Council is currently being prepared on this matter identifying those parks that will have their playground equipment replaced or removed. The report will be available from the Council website as part of the Council meeting agenda on 22 September 2015.

h. How much are we spending on City Wi-fi?  

The City currently spends approximately $75,000 on providing free Internet which is spread across three distinct service areas;

1. Encompasses six Wifi nodes along the Foreshore, one node at QPT,2 nodes at QEII, four nodes at the airport and 1 node at the Aquarena.

2. Encompasses Wi-Fi and Public internet at the Geraldton Regional Library and Mullewa Library & Mullewa Chambers.

3. Encompasses free internet for the Seniors public computers at the QE2.  

The City has negotiated a reduction in the cost of delivery for the Public Wei-Fi service effective July 2016.

i. Beresford Foreshore development. Is this going to be similar to the original proposal that the community had input on four or five years ago or is it more of a protection of coast plan? What effect will work in this area have on beaches north of Beresford?  

The plan is generally consistent with what the community said in previous engagement. We have spent over $500,000 in developing a cost effective solution that will work and take into account sea level rise. The design solution takes into account new data that has been gathered specifically for this project to both inform and validate the design solution. I doubt that there is anyone in this community with the depth of knowledge and experience that hasn’t been considered by these experts. Underwater reefs, geotextile sand containers, offshore breakwaters, do nothing, dune management – every possible factor has been considered. Detailed design is still being finalised and we will work with NACC to engage with the community. However, this is a highly technical and specialised area and we are working with experts. Although we will be showing the community what we are planning, they won’t have input into the technical design as this has to be done by technical experts.

j. Is the City aware that asbestos and other rubbish dumped in the sand dunes in the past is now exposed due to erosion? It’s unsafe.  

The City must comply with and enforce the Health (Asbestos) Regulations 1992 under the Health Act 1911 and the Department of Environment and Regulations Guidelines for the Assessment, Remediation and Management of Asbestos-Contaminated Sites in Western Australia. The City provided a report to the Department of Environmental Regulation on the clean-up and will act on any further advice received from them. The City will look at how to address wider issue of exposure of legacy fly-tipping in environmentally sensitive areas.

k. What is the total expenditure this financial year?  

The total financial expenditure this financial year is $141,000,000.

l. What happened to the money that was going to be spent on St George’s Beach last year?  

We’ve met with residents about St George’s Beach to hear their concerns. A few years ago St George’s Beach wasn’t considered to be at risk of coastal erosion so something has happened and we need to understand what; that’s why we are gathering additional coastal information that will inform a design solution that addresses the coastal issues and resident’s concerns.

m. Reduction of recurrent and non-recurrent community grants. Has the City put forward an advocacy or submission for State and Federal governments to pick up this funding for community services?  

There are a number other state and federal funding agencies that provide funding support to community groups. The City will continue to keep community groups advised of these funding opportunities.

n. What are the costs involved in the ANZAC Day Commemorative services?  

The ANZAC Day Commemorative Service includes the City’s partnership contribution to the RSL which is approx. $14,500. This includes a Dawn Service held at 6am and the Main Service held at 11am in Geraldton. They are collectively attended by between 8,000-10,000 community members.

o. Why was the annual verge side collection cancelled?  

Council made the decision to discontinue the annual bulk verge side collection based on comments and suggestions made by Community Summit participants about the service and its ranking on the priority list of services. The ranking was the result of a holistic review of all non-mandatory services in relation to identifying cost savings. However, the City will be providing an alternate service for pensioners which will entail one free bulk bin dropped to their property. This will be subject to an application to the City and the service will commence in October.

p. Will the construction of the new dog pound be awarded to local contractors?  

The City must comply with the Local Government Act in any procurement process. The Act stipulates that Contracts valued at over $100,000 must be (advertised or issued) as a state wide public tender. In compliance with the Act, the City does have a Regional Price Preference Policy which aims to maximise the use of competitive regional businesses in the procurement of goods and services. Before awarding any contract the City examines each tender against criteria to assess whether or not the company has the required knowledge and experience to deliver the project on time and within budget outlined in their submission. The City must ensure rate payers are getting the best value for money in the delivery of projects. To enable more local contractors to be competitive in tendering for projects, the City is undertaking workshops with the business community to provide them with the knowledge and skills required to tender for City projects.