All the legal terminology and "mumbo jumbo" that one must comb through when assessing the details of a City budget can be challenging for those unfamiliar to it all.
So a wise thing to do if you wanted to be sure about what you were reading would be to have some professionals, like lawyers or accountants, read it for you and give you the thumbs up or down.
Which is what the CGG Ratepayers Demand Change group did after seemingly successful mediation with the City of Greater Geraldton negotiated a 2.25% rate increase instead of the expected 7.2% increase this financial year. According to a post by the group on their Facebook page, the result was "a good long term outcome for CGG ratepayers".
The "2.25%" increase means the council will collect a total extra amount in rates of 2.25%. Unfortunately, the CGGRDG thought it meant each individual rate bill would be up 2.25%.
The confusion is totally understandable. If someone told you that rates were going up 2.25%, you would expect the rates bill you receive to be 2.25% more than last year.
It's actually pretty close to that, but according to CGGRDG a large number of ratepayers will actually be paying slightly more than 2.25%. About 2.55%. And they are claiming that they were misled by the City of Greater Geraldton.
So back to the State Administrative Tribunal (SAT) we go. Or perhaps just more mediation.
Max Correy, who owns Geraldton based real estate company Primaries Real Estate Geraldton and is an active community member, has been the driving force behind the push to lower rates in Geraldton. Many locals are grateful for his tireless efforts to get rates lower than they otherwise would be.
At last weeks council meeting, Mr Correy handed out a printed spreadsheet to people in the gallery with numbers on it claiming the City of Greater Geraldton was taking an extra $38.52 million than it should have been over the next 10 years.
He quizzed the CEO of the City of Greater Geraldton on the numbers and why the City was doing this, and was met with a startling response. CEO Ken Diehm stated that not only were the figures presented drastically inaccurate, but population growth had also not been taken into account.
On top of that, a line of questioning started about the previous year's increase, even though recent statements from the CGGRDC had said that after going through the figures during mediation, that the City "... have now provided us with a better understanding of the Council’s financial position" and had agreed to continued to increased rates until the asset renewal deficit was (mostly) eliminated. Click here to read: http://everythinggeraldton.com.au/geraldton-news/2013/6/24/great-news-for-ratepayers
The community is becoming divided over the matter
On one hand, many people are still livid about the huge rate increase last year and are more than happy for the CGGRDC to fight to get rates down another 9 cents per week.
On the other hand, some people are starting to wonder who appointed CGGRDC as the representatives of ratepayers of Geraldton. The local council are democratically elected members of the community tasked with representing residents and directing the actions of the staff of the City. People are questioning why we need self appointed community representatives to negotiate with democratically elected community representatives?
If another local group that actually wanted improved services decided they wanted to be the ones to negotiate future rates and budgeting policy with the City, and were happy for rates to be higher in order to achieve this, would the City have to listen to them instead/as well?
It's been an expensive exercise thus far too.
So far, ratepayers have had to fork out nearly $30,000 to get this far, and if further SAT hearings are required, it's expected that another $20,000 will be spent. That's a total of $50,000 spent by ratepayers to negotiate so the City of Greater Geraldton can reach an agreement with the CGGRDC. That's not including any money raised by the CGGRDC for their expenses.
Admittedly though, the overall rates reduction the CGGRDC has been able to achieve was larger than $50,000.
And from the sounds of things, the City of Greater Geraldton is not happy with what they see as a broken contract.
Mr Diehm said if SAT didn’t award costs against the Ratepayers Demand Change Group he would be asking the Council to take separate legal action for breach of contract so that the community can recover its costs and any costs associated with an adverse SAT determination.
He said a deal is a deal – the City has met its side of the agreement, but the CGG Ratepayers Demand Change group has walked away from its side. “If that’s their choice I think it only fair that they pay for the consequences – not our community,” he said.
Can still be proud
Even if the CGGRDC call it a day now and decide to honour their original agreement with the City of Greater Geraldton, they can be proud of themselves that they brought the rate increase down from an anticipated 7.2% to 2.25% this year, and most of the feedback we've had at Everything Geraldton is that people are grateful for this.
And they certainly got the council's attention with regard to what the community is prepared to pay moving forward. Departments right throughout the City are looking for ways to save money, and each decision made moving forward is done with a closer eye on the bottom line.
On top of all that, according to statements made on social media, certain members of CGGRDC do intend to step up and run for council at the next local government elections.