20 April 2015

Rates confusion looms

Media Release

Date: 17 April 2015

Rates confusion looms

Outgoing LGA President Mayor David O'Loughlin has a nightmare vision of thousands of pulped Council rates notices.

Currently the Rates and Land Tax Remissions Act and regulations require the State Government to fund the concessions but Treasurer Tom Koutsantonis has said they will not do so after 1 July - yet the laws remain unchanged."

"Under current legislation Councils by law are required to print State Governmentconcessions on rates notices," Mayor O'Loughlin said.

"The Treasurer needs to tell Councils now if he is going to put up legislation to axe concessions before the rates notices are printed."

"If legislation is introduced after rates notices are printed Councils will have no option but to pulp them.

" It's a scenario which could see at least 160,000 notices pulped and reprinted across the state, adding to ratepayers' costs and community confusion. ," he said.

"Councils are already asking the LGA how to prepare next year's rates notices and we just can't get a clear answer for them.

"Even if we could rely on what the Treasurer has said, rather than the unchanged law as it istoday, we have the Opposition committed to disallowing any change to the regulations in the Upper House with strong support from the cross-benchers."

"So we could have a change to regulations one day, which Councils must comply with upon gazettal, being disallowed the next time parliament sits - and that is far from every day, so confusion could reign for weeks."

"Some Councils have already started consulting communities on their 2015-16 Budgets as they are required to do and will make decisions about their budgets before the State Budget is brought down on 18 June."

Mayor O'Loughlin said many Councils issued rates notices at the start of the financial yearon 1 July to maintain Council cash flow.  Any delays, could lead to short term borrowings to cover operating costs, adding further burden to local ratepayers.

"So a Council which holds off on sending out rates notices to avoid having to pulp them, will lose out anyway."

Mayor O'Loughlin said this year's rating cycle could be a complete shemozzle unless the Treasurer acknowledges the Opposition and cross benches will block his changes to the legislation, he acknowledges the anxiety he is creating for pensioners across the state, he acknowledges the administrative burden he could impose on Councils and he makes an early announcement on the Government's position.

"But far from this, the State Treasurer, Tom Koutsantonislatest tactic is to suggest Councils fund the State concessions themselves - without admitting that all it would do is shift the cost to local ratepayers so the State government keeps their money and the local ratepayer cops in it the wallet," Mayor O'Loughlin said.

"We have clearly told the Treasurer that Local Government neither determines who is entitled to receive a pension, nor do we provide welfare payments to them."

"It makes no sense for all three levels of Government to provide welfare payments and pensioner concessions are entirely the province of State governments. Any further complexity simply adds red tape and further bureaucracy for no gain to the taxpayer.

"In addition, any shift of State obligations to Councils will simply result in mum and dad ratepayers paying higher rates to fill the gap abandoned by the other spheres of government."

Mayor O'Loughlin said shifting the pension concessions burden to Councils would hit the poorest Councils and those with high number of pensioners, the hardest.

"It is vital for the concessions to be funded at the State level to ensure equity across the State."

"It is equally important to have consistency across the nation, with no other State or Territory government seeking to pass the cost on to local Councils. To date the Treasurer has made no argument as to why South Australia should be any different."

"We are already the lowest funded Council jurisdiction in the nation, receiving less State or Federal funding per capita or per kilometre of road length or under any other key measure than any other State or Territory. Under what circumstances does the Treasurer think he can justify making a bad situation for SA Councils even worse?"

"Councils are currently holding community consultations on their budget deliberations, if we don't get a straight answer shortly this issue could become an administrative and legal mess which will add significant cost to Councils and their communities.

"The State Government should come clean, let communities know what they are doing and have the guts to explain and defend their decisions to taxpayers, pensioners and ratepayers alike. Alternatively, they can treat these concessions as they do for others for energy, transport, water and other costs to pensioners and get on with the job of funding them properly, including the introduction of annual indexation so pensioners do not miss out as time goes on. He said

For further information: Media Officer Mary Ann Stenberg 0428 860 274

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