‘Financial stress’ hitting SW ratepayers

Kate FieldingSouth Western Times

More Bunbury homeowners are paying rates by instalments and an increase in non-payment penalties suggests residents are financially stressed, according to Mayor Gary Brennan.

As part of its Budget review process, Bunbury City Council is expected to soon start deliberations over what the 2017-18 rate increase will be.

Mr Brennan said the rise in unpaid rates penalties would be taken into consideration when discussions over rate increases happened.

“I try to determine what the community can afford and that’s based on how unemployment is going and what the financial stress levels are,” Mr Brennan said.

“In the Budget review we’re looking at now, the penalties for non-payment of rates is actually increasing so that to me indicates that financially, people are stressed.

“The fact that more people are paying by instalments and there’s interest applied to it, that’s an indicator to me that there is some financial stress – not a lot, but there is some stress.”

In the council’s latest financial management report for the end of January, an extra $24,000 in rate payments interest was received.

Cuts to local government fleet concessions could also affect rates with the cost to the council estimated at a “few hundred thousands of dollars” over several years, according to Mr Brennan.

From July, the Department of Transport will discontinue registration concessions on council vehicles. But Mr Brennan said the council would not solely rely on rates to cover the extra costs.

“We make adjustments across the board, we don’t just say ‘rates will cover it’, we’ll reduce expenditure in certain areas,” he said.

The council increased rates for the 2016-17 financial year by 4.5 per cent, which included one per cent for asset upgrades and renewal, 2.5 per cent towards operating expenditure increases and one per cent for growth.

The council has started workshops for the 2017-18 Budget, which will be adopted in July.

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