Whyalla fights for its ratepayers

Located on the Upper Spencer Gulf in South Australia, Whyalla Council is fighting a new $105 annual levy on the City’s ratepayers, which it believes is cost shifting of State Government responsibilities.

The levy is part of a proposed plan to significantly lift funding for the Eyre Peninsula Natural Resource Management Region through its various Local Governments.

It is expected to take $1 million out of Whyalla and would be the equivalent to one third of the total Local Government regional funding sought by the organisation.

Council has ‘strongly rejected’ the proposed funding model, labelling it as cost shifting by the State Government and not Whyalla’s obligation to cross subsidise the rest of Eyre Peninsula because of its low population base.

Council is now exploring options to protect the community from imposition of the levy.

In a notice of motion put forward at a Council meeting in February, Whyalla Deputy Mayor, Eddie Hughes, said the funding proposal failed to take into account capacity to pay.

“A pensioner in Whyalla or a young family struggling to pay a mortgage will pay the same amount as a tuna baron in his multi million dollar property,” he said.

“How equitable is that?

“To add insult to injury, Council rate notices will be used to impose the levy, rather than the South Australian Emergency Service Levy process or some other State Government instrument.

“This is not a levy imposed by Council. It is a levy imposed by the Natural Resource Management (NRM) Board as a result of State Government legislation.”

Council has acknowledged that many of the programs are worthwhile and that an administrative structure is needed to carry out the various functions, but believes it is the State Government’s responsibility to cross subsidise the region – not Whyalla’s.

A total of 78 NRM projects have been listed for 2006/2007, but only three are specific to Whyalla.

These include a pamphlet on local flora, a program to address carrion flower, and an already completed walkway, which assists cuttlefish divers.

“These are not big dollar items,” Councillor Hughes said. “There are 32 full time equivalents employed by the board, but none work out of Whyalla.

“Although it is proposed that one part time person will be based in Whyalla, the fact that no one is based here at the moment demonstrates that we are not a high priority when it comes to NRM activity.

“Whyalla has just come out of more than two decades of decline and a significant proportion of the community is on low or fixed incomes.

“We have a lot of challenges, including the environment, and we can not afford to lose more than $1 million a year.”

Whyalla Council has just over 11,000 rateable properties. This financial year, Council will pay $2.20 per property towards natural resource management in the region. This will increase to $52.50 in 2007/2008 and then to $105 plus CPI adjustments from 2008/2009.

Council has written to the South Australian Local Government Association and South Australian Minister for Environment and Conservation, Gail Gago, expressing its concern and its rejection of the proposal.

The Minister has acknowledged these concerns, but to date made no comment.

The Eyre Peninsula Local Government Association has also opposed the levy, claiming it should be an equal levy imposed across the State. The issue will be taken to a Parliamentary Committee.

For further information contact Councillor Hughes on (08) 8645 7800.