Threats against council staff over Queanbeyan rates debacle

Front-line staff at the Queanbeyan City Council have been abused and threatened by irate ratepayers as the council seeks to recover $3.7 million in outstanding rates charges.

Councillors will meet on Wednesday to discuss options to resolve the rates crisis two weeks since the council issued ratepayers with retrospective bills and refunds. 

Several councillors have expressed concern at the level of fear and anger in the community, which Councillor Toni McLennan said had included threats towards council staff. 

 ‘‘I am appalled that council staff have been abused and that there have been death threats,’’ Cr McLennan said.

A council spokesperson said there had had been instances where residents had threatened staff, but that so far none had been reported to police.

An audit of the council’s property database going back to the 2009-10 financial year found the significant shortfall. Rates bills for up to $94,000 have been issued, while some residents and businesses have received windfall refunds. 

However many councillors disagree with clawing back the funds from the community.

At Wednesday's workshop councillors will review options including a proposal by Member for Monaro John Barilaro that council approach the Minister for Local Government with a request to add a new clause to current local government legislation that would enable the council to scrub the rates notices.

However, he warned that could take months. 

Cr Sue Whelan said a swift solution was needed to put the community’s minds at rest. 

‘‘There are some very distressed people and I am really concerned about the residents that have been impacted by this,” Cr Whelan said. 

‘‘John Barilaro’s suggestion is a fantastic one and that needs to be pursued regardless. I am hoping we can find a resolution so residents don’t have to pay what I see as a totally unfair charge.” 

Councillors Jamie Cregan, Judith Burfoot, Brian Brown, Kenrick Winchester and Sue Whelan have all said they want to see the backdated bills written off.

But Cr Trudy Taylor and deputy mayor Peter Bray said they would reserve their opinion until more information was presented at the workshop briefing.

Cr McLennan cautioned emotions were running high and cool heads were needed to sort the matter out.

Within the constraints of the legislation, she said the council had been reasonable in offering those facing additional payments a five-year interest-free period to pay the rates bills.

“For the 933 that were undercharged it would be a shock and I am sympathetic to that, but let’s not lose sight of the 2000 that received refunds between $15,000-$61,000 too,” she said. “Council has just been doing what it is obliged to under the legislation and from what I understand the only way to waive the charges is through changes to that legislation.”

The council has no opportunity to vote at the workshop, but Cr Cregan said he wanted to see a quick remedy for those worried about steep bills and would call for an extraordinary meeting before the council's next meeting on August 27.

Source: Canberra Times

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