Search This Blog

Tuesday, December 14, 2010

Giving with one hand, but taking away with the other

An officers' report to tonight's meeting of the City of Greater Geelong council recommends that landowners in the Central Road area of Clifton Springs can defer paying a 'special charge' for a new drain ... but at a cost of 5% p.a. interest. On a typical 'special charge' of $78,000, 5% p.a. simple interest over ten years increases the bill to $117,000; at compound interest, the bill rises to $127,000.

Three features of the report make it significant:
  1. The report reiterates the council's belief that the new drain will increase the value of local properties, thus conferring a 'special benefit' on local landowners that is reflected in the 'special charge' levied on their property. However, it accepts the principle (argued by DCSCA and others) that such an increase in value is only hypothetical - it is realised ONLY when a property is subdivided and/or sold. Consequently, the proposal is that a 'special charge' is payable only when a property is subdivided and/or sold. Good news! But ...
  2. The report proposes to charge each landowner 5% p.a. interest (it doesn’t specify whether this is simple or compound) on their special charge until they pay it. What is the 5% interest for? The report doesn’t say. However, the council incurs no continuing expense – it just has to make a one-off payment to the developer. Thus, charging 5% p.a. (simple or compound) creates a straight profit for the council.
  3. The report proposes that the council should institute the ‘deferred payment’ (at 5% p.a.) despite the fact that it hasn’t been published for public scrutiny and comment. In other words, officers are suggesting that a major change in policy should be just quietly introduced with no public consultation or discussion.
The proposals around the Central Road ‘special charge’ scheme set a precedent for the operation of the ‘special charge’ scheme across the whole Council. Consequently, DCSCA is alarmed that officers are proposing to introduce these policies without proper public scrutiny and comment.

A continuing argument The report represents the latest phase in an argument between the council and local landowners that began in February 2010.* Then, the council announced its intention to levy a Special Charge on local landowners to recoup money it has committed to a new, $1.5 million drain to serve the area. CoGG has split the cost of the drain with Melbourne-based Pinnacle Holdings, which wishes to build a retirement village in Central Road.

When the council announced the proposed 'Special Charge' in February, thirteen of the eighteen landowners liable to the scheme objected to the proposal, as did the Drysdale & Clifton Springs Community Association. On March 31, the objectors held a public meeting that featured on Channel 9's A Current Affair.

On 15 July, some of the objectors received a letter (postmarked 13 July) from the council inviting them to appear before an internal Submissions Panel established to review objections to the proposal, which would meet on 20 July, i.e. just three working days away. By Friday July 16, other objectors hadn't even received such a letter. DCSCA and others argued strongly to the Panel that three working days was insufficient notice and the Panel hearing was postponed to 16 August.

Submissions Panel chair Cllr. Jan Farrell told people who attended that the Panel would submit its recommendations to the council 'in October or early November'; and that each person who had made a submission concerning the proposal would be notified in advance of the council meeting at which the recommendations will be discussed, so that they can attend if they wish. DCSCA has received no such notice of tonight's discussion, other than seeing the item on the Agenda when it was published on Friday 10 December.

Some points to clarify DCSCA will ask these questions at the council meeting:
  1. When and from whom did council officers receive advice about the legality of proceeding with the option to defer payment - a policy that has not been exhibited for public scrutiny and comment?
  2. On what legal basis will the council proceed with this special charge scheme, given that it has generated objections from a majority (13/18) of landowners and that Section 163B(6) of the Local Government Act stipulates that such a scheme cannot proceed if it is opposed by a majority of those likely to be affected by it?
  3. Is the proposed 5% p.a. interest on a deferred special charge simple or compound; and how does the council justify charging landowners in Central Road 5% interest p.a., when the council will incur no continuing expense after it pays its share of the cost of the drain in Central Road?

* There have been several reports about this argument on drycliftdays. To see them, type 'Central Road' into the blog's 'Search' window.

Thursday, December 2, 2010

Making new 'Friends'

People at a DCSCA Public Meeting established two new 'Friends' groups in Drysdale & Clifton Springs - 'Friends of The Foreshore' and 'Friends of The Basin'.

The DCSCA meeting - on December 1 2010 at SpringDale Neighbourhood Centre - attracted 25 local people, who heard Matt Crowley, from Bellarine Catchment Network and Peter Beresford, from Bellarine Landcare, describe what each organisation does and how it could help a 'Friends of ...' group to become established. In the ensuing discussion, people asked how to set up 'Friends' groups and how they operate elsewhere.

Several people at the meeting were sufficiently keen to conserve and promote The Foreshore and The Basin to establish a 'Friends of The Foreshore' and a 'Friends of The Basin'. Each group is already planning a get together 'on site' to familiarise themselves with it and to discuss what needs to be done to conserve and promote it; and each group has decided that it would like to see its site targeted in Clean Up Australia Day early in 2011.

DCSCA called the Public Meeting to launch its campaign for an Open Spaces Network - a collection of local open spaces connected by walking and/or cycling tracks. Each open space in the Network will be kept as simple and open as possible, highlighting its natural characteristics and views and featuring appropriate local indigenous plants; and each will have its own 'Friends of ...' group to assist in its upkeep.

As development proceeds apace in our towns, land becomes more valuable - especially open space. The Open Spaces Network identifies major open spaces in our towns as a way of preventing them being bought up for 'development'. The first two sites in the Network are The Foreshore (in the general area of the Dell) and The Basin (off Gillies Road). Others include Lake Lorne, Springs Street, Quarry Park, Griggs Creek and Beacon Point.

For more information about 'Friends of The Foreshore' and/or 'Friends of The Basin', contact DCSCA: E-mail OR P.O. Box 581, drysdale 3222.

Bellarine Catchment Network:
Bellarine Landcare:

(Photo of The Dell by Linda Gallus)