Rate rises to average 3 per cent

Taelor PeluseyAugusta Margaret River Times

Uncertainties surrounding the State Government’s finances have underscored the Shire of Augusta-Margaret River’s annual budget, which was adopted this week along with rates increases averaging 3 per cent.

Projects totalling about $3.4 million and the $677,000 for the 2017-18 financial year through the Financial Assistance Grants program were brought forward, allowing the Shire to enter this year with a surplus of about $4 million.

During this week’s council meeting, Shire president Ian Earl said 3 per cent was “about where we need to be” to allow the Shire to tackle curve-balls thrown by the Government.

“The State Government — they giveth, they taketh away,” he said.

“It does pay to have good reserves, which we do have, and a good solid budget to allow for some surprises down the track.”

Capital and operating expenditure is at $60 million — up by $12 million from the previous year — while cash-backed reserves totalling $23 million have been forecast to meet challenges including the main street redevelopment and conversion of Witchliffe’s Davis Road landfill site into a regional waste transfer station.

Employee costs mark the Shire’s biggest operating expense at 41 per cent and are up 1.4 per cent on the previous year.

However, there could be a slight reprieve with an amendment made by Cr Kim Hastie, who left space for the role of an economic development officer — estimated to cost ratepayers about $80,000 — to be reconsidered.

“If we look at where this collective community is at, it’s evolved quite rapidly and progressively and successfully through its own endeavours,” he said.

“I’m not saying withdraw it ... I’m saying let’s sit down and review the necessity of that position.”

Environmental programs received a boost of almost $500,000 and met praise from Cr Pam Townshend, while Cr Mike Smart welcomed the boost for Augusta, which included three new chalets and a power upgrade at Turner Caravan Park.

Major and local events will be boosted by $135,000 and $50,500 respectively.

While the budget was presented as balanced, Cr Peter Lane questioned whether it should be considered as such.

“I’d make the observation that where this is put to us as a balanced budget, I regard it as a deficit budget because ... any budget that requires borrowing to make it balance is a deficit budget,” he said.

Cr Lane said this demonstrated why rates increases were “absolutely justifiable and necessary”.

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