LOCAL State MP John Barilaro has said that Queanbeyan ratepayers may be stuck with their new rates bills after advice provided to him by Local Government Minister Paul Toole said that the invoices couldn’t now be legally withdrawn.
Mr Barilaro has been a vocal critic of Queanbeyan Council’s decision to recoup around $3.7 million in backdated water, sewerage and waste access charges from ratepayers, and told a meeting of affected ratepayers last night that the situation was a “bloody mess.”
He said Council wasn’t obliged to issue the backdated rates invoices in the first place, but now that it had, they couldn’t be withdrawn.
“It could have been averted if Council chose to wear the cost of its mistake and not re-issue rates notices.
“The problem we face now is that the Local Government Act does not allow for rate notices to be withdrawn once they have been issued.”
However Mr Barilaro said some hope remained for ratepayers facing large bills, some of which reach into the tens of thousands of dollars. He said the Minister’s advice pointed to one clause in the Act that might still allow the invoices to be written off.
“The advice from the Minister also points to one of the procedures for writing off rates and charges under Local Government Regulation which says [it may be done] ‘if the council or the general manager believe on reasonable grounds that an attempt to recover the amount would not be cost effective.’
“I believe that the cost of [defending] a class action could satisfy this clause,” he said.
“Given this advice, what I am now seeking from the Minister and the department is, what is the mechanism to enable these rates to be written off entirely?
“In my own reading, I believe a resolution with the support of a majority council may be able to achieve this,” Mr Barilaro said.
However Mayor Tim Overall told The Queanbeyan Age this week that any attempts to dodge the rates notices were merely offering “false hope.”
“It is not a legal option for Council to waive rates and this would also create an unfair advantage to a small proportion when 95 per cent of other residents have already paid the correct amounts,” Cr Overall said.
“Suggestions this can be done are ill-informed and misleading, offering false hope to those affected.”
Meanwhile Council’s legal consultants will meet with Councillors on Wednesday night in a workshop to outline its legal advice in depth.
Another meeting held by affected ratepayers in Queanbeyan on Thursday night decided to await the outcome of Council’s workshop before choosing a course of action.