Rates debate: Coorong homeowners may pay less, businesses more

The Coorong council has proposed a dramatic shake-up of its property rating policy.

This story was originally published behind Murray Bridge News’ paywall. Paywalled stories are unlocked four weeks after publication. Can’t wait that long? Subscribe here.

Most Coorong district homeowners would get lower property rates bills from this July under a major shake-up proposed by the local council.

Instead, the burden of paying for council services would shift slightly towards business owners and land speculators.

Under the proposal:

  • Fixed charges would go down by $210 over two years

  • Commercial and industrial property owners would pay 20% more than homeowners from 2021-22

  • The rate paid on vacant property would increase from 120% to 165% of the general rate over two years

The changes would not give the council any extra money over and above the annual rate increases it had already planned.

All that would change was who paid how much.

The council’s current rate capping policy, which prevents any property owner’s bill from going up by more than 10% in a year, would still apply.

In a report, consultant David Hope said most South Australian councils already asked business owners to pay higher property rates because they were likely to use a greater share of council resources, including car parks, roads and staff time; and because they were able to pay more.

He also reported that “land banking” – buying land, leaving it vacant and waiting for its value to increase – was a particular problem in the Coorong district.

Changes would help low-income households, councillors say

Councillors approved the draft plan at a special meeting on Tuesday.

Cr Glynis Taylor said the changes had been long overdue.

“This is a stringent move towards setting the inequity between low-value properties and high-value properties on the right road,” she said.

“I really look forward to going out to public consultation on this.”

However, she suggested the council would need to explain itself carefully, as “the matter of rates is very confusing to ratepayers”.

Cr Jeff Arthur said a few of the “cockies” he knew were scared about the changes, as they already paid a lot in property rates.

Councillors had first discussed the changes in May 2020 but decided to hold off for a year while the local economy worked through the COVID-19 recession.

Even now, the changes are not a done deal – residents will get a chance to have their say online and at three community workshops next month.