Meet the rates rebels who are fighting against a new fee
A RETIREE from Mount Morgan was shocked to discover an unexpected rates rise when he received a letter from Rockhampton Regional Council earlier this month.
Bill Watson, 72, and other Mount Morgan residents are now fighting back to modify a surprise State Government fee, the Emergency Management Levy (EML), which was included in their rates bill.
Mr Watson's campaign for change has already won the support of Member for Mirani Stephen Andrew, who is asking for the government to find an urgent resolution.
The EML has affected residents whose properties consist of small lots, including those in the vicinity of where a railway line once ran through the area of Walterhall.
Rockhampton Region Mayor Margaret Strelow told The Morning Bulletin an error had been discovered in the collection of the levy which was now being applied to various residents such as Mr Watson.
"A recent State Government audit of our process advised that we should have been collecting a levy for each lot of land, not per rate notice,” Cr Strelow said.
Some ratepayers are now facing the prospect of paying as many as 10 Emergency Management levies.
Cr Strelow said the council had written to affected residents to give forewarning before their rate notice was sent.
Mr Watson's property in Grey St, a triangular shaped block of land, was one of those Mount Morgan properties identified as having multiple lots.
Mr Watson said it wasn't fair for residents (some of whom were pensioners) to have to pay the higher cost.
While Mr Watson first noticed the extra fee when he received the recent council letter, his rates notice issued in January showed the government levy of $63.70.
With a frontage of 7.6 metres, Mr Watson's property backs on to where a railway line once stood.
He told The Morning Bulletin yesterday that Mr Andrew had agreed to meet with Mount Morgan residents on July 11 to find a solution to their issue.
Mr Andrew has written to Local Government Minister Stirling Hinchliffe to bring his attention to the issue.
"I have been approached by numerous Mount Morgan area ratepayers who have been caught up with the prospect of paying two, three and as many as 10 Emergency Management Levies,” he said.
"These fees are due with the next rates notices to be issued in mid-July, so finding a resolution is urgent due to the financial implications.”
Meanwhile, another rates rebel, Raymond Bellert, came forward this week to express his dissatisfaction with the levy.
In a letter to the editor, the fellow Grey St resident wrote: "Most or at least a lot of these lots in Mount Morgan are what are known as miner's cottage leases, very narrow frontages and long, skinny...I doubt that you would be allowed to build any house of substance on one of these blocks.
"We have started a movement to see if we can have this levy modified, we have contacted state and federal politicians.”
In its recent budget, Rockhampton Regional Council moved to accept the levy which was required to "be paid on the day that is 30 clear days after the date of the issue of the rate notice”.
The Morning Bulletin asked the council for clarification on the levy.
Cr Strelow said the levy was a state government charge which partially funded the Queensland Fire and Emergency Services.
She said council does not set the levy and it does not keep the money, but merely collects it on behalf of the state government.
"Council has always interpreted the rules for collection to mean there should be one charge per rate notice and so we only added one charge per notice, no matter if there were two or more separate lots of land involved,” Cr Strelow said.
"Ratepayers may not be aware their piece of land may consist of multiple lots and each lot may now attract a levy.
"It may be possible for people to reduce the amount they are charged by joining two or more lots into one.”
The council encouraged residents to contact the Department of Natural Resources, Mines and Energy or a local surveyor for more information about the process.
"Anybody who has received the letter advising that they would be affected by the EML should contact QFES on 137468,” Cr Strelow said.
A Queensland Fire and Emergency Services spokesman told The Morning Bulletin there had been no recent changes to the levy.
"Queensland Fire and Emergency Services recently conducted an EML audit on levy files in the Rockhampton Regional Council area, including properties within the Mirani electorate,” the spokesman said.
The audit involved local councils reviewing the classifications of each property, and in some cases "discrepancies were identified between the Fire and Emergency Services Regulation 2011 and applications of them when it came to administering rates notices”.
"The Fire and Emergency Services Act 1990 Act provides no ability to amend, waive or make changes to either the statutory levy class or the statutory levy category.
"It is a binding formula created by parliament and local authorities and QFES are bound by the law...as the law stands, the EML applies to each lot.”
The Act provides no exemption to the levy where a landowner owns several lots.
"The relevant local council is required to determine the statutory levy class and the statutory levy category of a property.”
Queensland Fire and Emergency Services will continue to analyse the issue.