Queanbeyan High School hit by $112,000 council rates bill

A Queanbeyan school is facing a rates bill of almost $112,000, the equivalent of a third of its annual state government income.

Queanbeyan High School has notified parents in a newsletter this week that its rates bill, about $80,000 of which is back-dated charges, totalled $111,966. And it warned parents they could be asked to pay $230 per student to cover it.

However the NSW Department of Education and Communities has rushed to assure parents at the school, and any others affected by Queanbeyan City Council's bid to recoup $3.7 million in outstanding charges, they won't be expected to pay.

And the region's NSW State Parliament representative, Monaro MP John Barilaro, has lambasted council for its "stupidity'' in pursuing retrospective rates.

“Contrary to unfounded claims, there is no system where student families would wear the cost of Council’s stupidity,” Mr Barilaro said.

"Let me be clear that this debacle is a result of council’s mismanagement of its rates and fees system. This mess could have been averted if council chose to wear the cost of its mistake and not re-issue rates notices.''

The school is one of nine primary, secondary and TAFE education properties owned by the department to have received supplementary rates notices from Queanbeyan City Council.

A NSW Department of Education and Communities spokesman said no matter what the council did, schools would not be expected to pay.

"If the backdated rates notice is found to be valid then the costs will be met by the Department of Education and Communities. Under no circumstances will parents or the school be expected to contribute."

Before learning of the education department's advice, president of the Queanbeyan High School Parents and Citizens Association Murray Lembit warned the school community didn’t have the capacity to pay.

“It would take an awful lot of sausage sizzles,” Mr Lembit said.

“Being a public school, contributions are voluntary so there is no way we could mandate for that money to be collected from parents.''

At a meeting on Wednesday night, the Queanbeyan City Council unanimously agreed to suspend payment on backdated bills until it has received advice from the NSW Minister for Local Government.

In a statement, council said only a portion of the figure published in the Queanbeyan High School newsletter represented backdated rates charges.

“The figure of $111,000 published by Queanbeyan High School includes $61,349 for charges from 2009-10 until 2012-13,” a council spokesman said.

He said another $18,509 was from 2013-14, $29,600 for the current financial year and $2,500 was for water charges for the fourth quarter of 2013-14.

The spokesman said schools were exempt from general rates, but were required to pay for water, sewerage and waste service charges.

Unlike the residential care facility Home in Queanbeyan, which may be eligible for a rebate to waive 50 per cent of its $23,000 backdated rates charges, schools fall outside the scope of council's rates and relief charges policy.

Jerrabomberra Public School principal Chris Hunter said her school was confronted by a bill of $8,000 in backdated rates.

“Our funding is finite for rates and is given per year,” Ms Hunter said.

“If the fee was levied in full it would put us over out entitlements this year and we would need to seek supplementary funding from the department."

Source: Sydney Morning Herald

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