Pandemic triggers Maribyrnong rates freeze

Benjamin Millar

Maribyrnong ratepayers have received a rare rate rise reprieve after councillors voted to freeze property rates at existing levels.

Maribyrnong Council’s draft 2020/21 budget had flagged the possibility of adopting the maximum two per cent rate rise permitted by the state government this year, redistributing the $1.9 million in extra income to the ratepayers hardest hit by the coronavirus pandemic.

But councilors last week opted to keep rates on hold at existing levels in recognition of the widespread impact of the pandemic.

The decision to freeze rate revenue in 2020/21 will cost the council close to $20 million in foregone income over the next decade.

But Maribyrnong mayor Sarah Carter said the decision was based on community feedback and the right thing to do in the unprecedented circumstances.

She said the council had initially proposed to quarantine the additional $1.9 million that would have been raised for those most in need, but knows that all residents and businesses are finding times tough.

“The thing that’s really clear to us, that came through strongly, is whether you’ve lost your job, whether your hours have been decreased, whether you’ve had to shut a small business or whether you’ve had to outlay money to school your kids at home, everyone is doing it really really tough,” she said.

“We know that, we hear that, so council has decided for the first time in history as far as I can remember not to take up the rate increase.”

The annual budget of $149.7 million will include $2.5 million spending on support packages for residents and businesses facing financial hardship due to the pandemic.

The Pensioner Rate Rebate Scheme will also increase by two per cent, from $194.30 to $198.20.

Cr Carter said the council is still planning a “stimulus budget” that includes moving forward with the RecWest Footscray redevelopment, Maribyrnong Aquatic Centre upgrade design and an action plan for the NeXt Project redevelopment of the Footscray Library site.

The Council will also spend $12.7 million to improve roads, $12.5 on parks, open space and streetscapes, $3 million on footpaths and cycle ways and $1.8 million for recreational, leisure and community facilities.

Other spending includes a new $300,000 Community Arts Grants Program for projects run by local arts organisations.