Calm before storm

Mt Barker ratepayers may breathe a sigh of relief when they open their rates notices this financial year to find the local council has settled on an average 3.9% increase instead of a mooted 4.5% rise.
As it stands, the hike is well below that of some other high-growth councils in SA, such as Gawler which has opted for an 8% increase for the fifth year in a row.
Most Adelaide councils have elected for  rises of less than 6%, while the Alexandrina Council is considering a 6.4% increase and Adelaide Hills has settled on 3.6%.
For a council pressured by ongoing rapid growth, Mt Barker’s rise could be considered modest, certainly so in the wake of past increases of over 7%.
But it may also be the calm before a very serious financial storm, according to elected members and the council’s own chief executive, Andrew Stuart.
As Mr Stuart warned at a meeting this week, unless the council can secure a significant increase in its revenue stream from somewhere, its residents stand to face substantial hikes in their annual rates bills to cover the looming costs of growth forced on the region by the State Government.
Someone will have to pay for the road upgrades and to ease the strain on existing infrastructure, as well as new community centres and sporting facilities and to meet increased demand for basic services.
At the moment that will be the residents who already live here and who have already been shouldering the cost burden as the region’s population expands.
Increasing their burden would be grossly unfair, especially as most of the extra expenses would deliver little or no benefit to existing homeowners.
The council recognises this and that is why it is pushing to introduce a separate rate to charge the landowners and developers of the almost 1300ha of land rezoned by the Government in 2010. They are the ones who stand to make significant financial gain from the town’s growth, so the council argues they should also contribute.
The council is already out of pocket by about $390,000 last financial year alone, and that does not include the heavy drain on council staff resources.
That money was spent on consultants to write detailed plans necessary to ensure the region’s growth is properly managed and the district secures the best outcome possible for its future.
Neither the State Government, which allowed the rezoning, nor the developers, who will make millions from it, were prepared to chip in to cover that cost.
That must change to ensure the majority in the community do not suffer hefty rate rises for years to come in order to line the pockets of a few.

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For the full report, see the print issue of The Courier.