‘Time to step up’: Calls for councils to freeze rate rises in the face of COVID-19 crisis

Local Governments have again been urged to freeze rates and charges to lessen the impact of the coronavirus pandemic on household budgets.

Premier Mark McGowan last week called on the sector to do its bit in reducing the burden on households, but by March 26 only the City of Perth, City of Albany and City of Bayswater had responded to the government’s call.

Local Government Minister David Templeman said the state government had already frozen rates, fees and charges and they were simply asking councils to do the same.

“The Premier has sent a very clear message to local governments across Western Australia – now is the time to step up, and demonstrate that you understand the challenges that households are facing in your communities,” he said.

“This is a very serious situation. Now is the time to recognise that it’s no longer business as usual and all levels of government need to work together.

“Local governments have a critical role to play in responding to COVID-19, and eventually how their communities recover from this crisis”.

Mr Templeman also encouraged local governments to consider other measures such as deferring charges to support small businesses or bring forward infrastructure works to keep people in jobs.

“Extraordinary times call for extraordinary leadership. I believe local governments have the capacity to demonstrate that, and I urge them to take up that opportunity,” he said.

WA Local Government Association president and Wanneroo mayor Tracey Roberts said there had been no overarching decision for the whole sector on rates, but every single council was looking “at what they can do to assist our ratepayers”.

Ms Roberts said local governments were considering bringing forward capital works packages and repositioning staff where necessary to support businesses and contractors.

“We’re working with the state government on urgent changes to regulations and legislation that can streamline approvals and licences – we want to enable local businesses to continue their work,” she said.

Ms Roberts said councils were also making sure their 22,000 staff remained employed so they could continue to support the community.

Tom Griffiths heads the South West Group, a voluntary group of coastal Perth councils from Rockingham to Fremantle, and earlier this week he sent a list of potential actions they could employ to help the recovery of businesses after COVID-19 was managed.

The recommendations included providing free business advisory services, waiving the change-of-use requirements for vacant shops, incentivising parking and waiving or reducing alfresco fees or other fees associated

Mr Griffiths said rates discounts or rebates would likely not work for small businesses because the council would have to rely on landlords to pass the savings down.

Source: WAToday