Thursday, July 4, 2024


Mackay and Whitsunday Life

Council Divided Over Reduction In Early Payment Discount For Rates

By Amanda Wright
At last week’s Mackay Regional Council annual budget meeting, tensions ran high as councillors debated the decision to reduce the early payment discount for ratepayers from 10 per cent to 6 per cent. This change, part of the 2024-2025 budget, effectively results in a significant rate increase for the majority of residents who traditionally take advantage of the prompt payment discount.
Mayor Greg Williamson acknowledged the challenges facing many in the Mackay region due to rising costs of living and household budget pressures. He emphasised that the council itself is grappling with escalating costs, likening its financial struggles to those experienced by businesses and households.
“This has been a tough budget to frame, but we’ve worked hard to keep the cost of delivering services the community expects down as much as possible so as to not burden ratepayers,” Mayor Williamson stated.
The newly adopted budget includes a rates increase of 3.6 per cent, translating to an average residential ratepayer paying $3623 per year—an additional $133 annually or $2.56 per week. However, for the approximately 80 per cent of ratepayers who benefit from the early payment discount, the rate increase will effectively be around 8.2 per cent.
Cr Peter Sheedy vehemently opposed the reduction in the early payment discount, expressing his concerns about its impact on the local inflationary spiral and household budgets.
"The decision by Mackay Regional Council to shave 40 per cent off the early payment discount used by about 80 per cent of ratepayers, taking it from 10 per cent down to 6 per cent, means a rate increase of 8.2 per cent for the large majority of ratepayers is unacceptable," Cr Sheedy remarked.
He criticised the council for not exploring alternative measures to drive efficiency and cut waste.
"As a newly elected Councillor with a focus on rate reform, I was opposed to the early payment discount being reduced," Cr Sheedy continued.
"I saw it adding fuel to the local inflationary spiral by the time its full effect flows through to households and renters. My endeavours to persuade Council to investigate a capping methodology were rejected by a majority of councillors who decided to stick with a system that will deliver a heavy blow with rate increases of as high as 60 per cent and 80 per cent for the second year in a row.
“Such blatant unfairness is why I wasn’t able to support the revenue policy statement and the rate schedule that flowed from it."
Cr Sheedy further highlighted the plight of ratepayers affected by a serious rating anomaly created last year, who are now facing another year of outrageously high rates.
"Ratepayers affected by the serious rating anomaly created last year, although small in number, are effectively being dealt a second dose of outrageously high rates that just cannot be justified. It’s deeply stressful for them but hard to make headway against entrenched opinions when the council refuses to take time and look at alternatives," he added.
Mayor Williamson defended the reduction in the discount as a move towards a more “socially equitable” rating structure, arguing that the most vulnerable ratepayers, who often enter payment plans, aren’t eligible for the discount and thus subsidise those who can afford to pay early.
“The 10 per cent discount in the current year’s budget equated to $19.91 million in revenue raised but then distributed back to ratepayers who could afford to use the discount. That will drop to $12.44 million in the 2024-2025 year due to the change to a six per cent discount,” he explained.
The $7 million difference will be redirected to council operations to help keep overall rate rises lower and mitigate disadvantages for those who cannot access the discount.
Cr George Christensen also opposed the discount reduction, arguing it unfairly penalises diligent ratepayers.
"The way the revenue was gathered for the rates should alarm every ratepayer and resident in our community," Cr Christensen said.
"The documents are touting a 3.6 per cent rates rise which aligns very neatly with the current CPI, but the average increase in terms of dollars that someone is going to have to pay is much, much higher, more than double the CPI."
Cr Christensen emphasised the disproportionate impact on the majority of ratepayers who pay early.
“It effectively affects 80 per cent of ratepayers, those who diligently pay their rates early, to an 8.2 per cent increase in their financial burden. It’s not just an increase, it’s a penalty on prudence and a tax on timeliness,” he stated.
Cr Bella supported the reduction as a measure of keeping the less fortunate in the community from being hit with a higher general rise in the cost of rates.
“There are those who struggle every day to send their kids to school, to fill their shopping trolley, they don’t have ready cash.
“Those who receive that 10 per cent discount do so at the expense of those who struggle.”
Cr May agreed and said it was important to vote on a budget that didn’t reduce services to the community.
“It’s not an easy decision to reduce that discount, however my part of the community certainly don’t want a reduction of services, and that would need to happen if the discount remained at 10 per cent.”
Mayor Williamson concluded the debate in chambers by saying, “If we increase the core value of the rateable property, that’s forever.”
“We’ve delivered a budget that doesn’t cut services, but has cut many departments back to the bone to trim as much as they can off the cost of operation.
“In keeping the general rate at the lowest possible level, it’s beneficial forever for that property.
“Ours was an equitable decision to deliver the lowest possible increase to the core value of the rateable property.”

“It’s not just an increase, it’s a penalty on prudence and a tax on timeliness.”

Cr George Christensen speaking at last week’s ordinary council meeting. Photo credit: Amanda Wright

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