An alarming increase in costs for the Shire of Margaret River has forced a suite of efficiency initiatives to help reduce the burden on ratepayers. As a consequence, in spite of the 12.4 per cent rise in costs to the shire, the average rates increase will be 4.75 per cent with a $20 increase to kerbside bin collections. In addition the budget has seen a tightening of carried over funds compared to previous years as officers juggle the competing needs of ratepayers concerned about fee increases versus the region’s burgeoning growth. The $48.492 million budget was unanimously passed by five councillors last week, with a website now live detailing locality-specific breakdowns of proposed projects. The administration’s report to council stated “several budget efficiency measures have been considered” in setting 2023-24 the budget “to ensure the increase in council rates is minimised, whilst provision of essential services, facilities and asset maintenance and renewal can be maintained.” “The 2023-24 proposed annual budget has been developed with significant input from staff, management and councillors,” the report said. “Negotiation has resulted in the re-prioritisation and deferral of some projects and activities to ensure available funding sources has resulted in a balanced budget.” Among those outcomes was a request to rein in carryovers which have been a prickly issue in past years. While this year’s outcome was good, cutting unspent capital works back to about $1.8 million, a last minute early payment of the Commonwealth’s Financial Assistance Grant blew it back out to about $3.98 million. Meanwhile, the Shire would bring in more than $41 million in income, including a total rates take this year of $26.539 million, up more than $1.5 million on 2022-23 thanks to 2.65 per cent growth in new rateable properties plus the 4.75 per cent rates hike on residents and the $20 increase to kerbside bin collections, in addition to the annual $170 waste levy. The Shire’s Financial Hardship Policy remained in effect to consider interest charges and penalty fees for residents who need it. In sounding the bugle about this year’s focus on renewing infrastructure and improving customer experiences, Shire president Paula Cristoffanini said all consideration was given to keep rates as low as possible without affecting services and facility maintenance. The majority of the Shire’s capital works projects was focused on renewal rather than new buildings. “We live in one of the fastest-growing regions in WA, and the needs and expectations of our diverse community are evolving over time,” she said. “We understand that some of the community’s priorities are outside of our control, such as the provision of quality healthcare and crime prevention, and for these we will continue to advocate on the community’s behalf. “Many of community’s priorities are within our control, however, such as the way we handle customer inquiries and deliver our road maintenance program. “We have listened to our community’s feedback and are prioritising investment in these areas.” The budget included more than $4 million for road renewal and upgrades, while actions stemming from the local government’s new customer experience strategy was also included. “We want our customers to understand our decision-making processes and to feel like they’ve received excellent customer service after any interaction they have with us,” Cr Cristoffanini said.