DIDN’T ADD UP: A petition asking for Somerset Regional Council to reduce its rates has been dismissed by councillors.
DIDN’T ADD UP: A petition asking for Somerset Regional Council to reduce its rates has been dismissed by councillors.

'It's where?': Region's rate rebate gains overseas support

AN ONLINE petition with more than 250 signatures has been received by the Somerset Regional Council calling for a rates cut in response to Covid-19.

However, councillors were quick to call into question the origins of some of the signatures, which most definitely were not from the Somerset region.

"Interestingly, only 125 of the signatories took the effort to identify as locals," councillor Sean Choat said during the budget meeting on Wednesday.

Sixty-six of the 258 responses list only 'Australia' as their location, while others were from the Lockyer Valley, Ipswich, Brisbane and even from interstate, with signatures from Adelaide, Darwin and Canberra.

Stranger still were signatures from as far afield as Las Vegas and Los Angeles in the United States and Ilford and Warrington in the United Kingdom.

READ MORE: Council's rates amid lowest in region for third year running

One especially unusual entry stood out from among the list of names and initials, with a person from Coburg choosing to list their name as 'heavyweaponsguy andthisismyweapon'.

"For these people, who don't live in the region and don't know the situation, to assert that we aren't doing our fair share is frankly insulting," Cr Choat said.

"I think it demonstrates the problems with making these sorts of petitions online."

READ MORE: Council reveals how it will handle rates during pandemic

Councillors were also less than impressed by the petition's title of "Somerset Regional Council needs to do its fair share", given the multitude of measures the council has already implemented in response to the pandemic.

The petition, submitted through online service Change.org, calls for the council to reduce its rates by 50 per cent for the 2020-21 financial year in order to help residents and businesses recover from the Covid-19 lockdowns.

Director of finance Geoffrey Smith was quick to point out the council had already done its fair share, with $11.3 million in rate deferrals and hundreds of thousands of dollars spent in targeted assistance since the pandemic began.

The rate discount period for this year was extended from April 7 to May 28, and all rate recovery legal actions of less than $100,000 have been put on hold until January.

The council also extended dog registrations for a year and waived tipping fees for residents for several months, while still continuing to pay the State Government's Waste Levy.

Another charge waived by the council was the business inspection levy for 2019-20, which affected more than 180 businesses throughout the region.

It was also noted that Somerset council's rates remain the cheapest in all southeast Queensland.

 

A graph confirming that Somerset Regional Council's rates remain the lowest in southeast Queensland.
A graph confirming that Somerset Regional Council's rates remain the lowest in southeast Queensland.

The petition's pleas went unanswered as councillors voted to make a slight increase to rates at this week's budget meeting.

"We have settled on a 1 per cent rate rise for owner-occupiers, farms and light commercial," Mayor Graeme Lehmann said.

"Our 2021 budget incorporates more than $30 million in capital expenditure. To put this into context, our entire annual rate revenue is just $23 million."

He thanked the State and Federal governments for their generous funding and support during the region's times of hardship.

"Our financial strength lets us make these vital investments in our present and for our future. We can afford to do this in the short term," he said.

"We can return to better times by building infrastructure that our community needs."

He said this had been the most difficult budget Somerset Regional Council had delivered in its history.

"Like the budgets of other governments at present, this is a deficit budget. But it is the right budget for 2020," he said.

More stories from Nathan Greaves.