Queanbeyan rates crisis over

Ratepayers and Councillor Jamie Cregan gathered outside Council chambers last night to celebrate their rates win.
Ratepayers and Councillor Jamie Cregan gathered outside Council chambers last night to celebrate their rates win.

QUEANBEYAN Councillors met last night to put an end to the town's eight-month backdated rates fiasco and quashed $3.7 million of rates invoices issued in July.

Ratepayers had been awaiting a review of the legal situation from a Senior Counsel (SC) to advise on the legality of withdrawing the notices. That advice is now with Council and formed the basis of last night's decision.

Mayor Tim Overall's motion before councillors noted that the advice, provided by SC John Robson, found that "the charges were invalidly levelled- being not in strict compliance with the [Local Government]Act."

"I made a very clear and public commitment ... that I personally did not support retrospectivity as a principle," Cr Overall said this week. "I said that right from the beginning, and that I'd be doing everything possible to find a way through and resolve the issue."

It's come as a big relief to affected ratepayers - largely businesses, community groups and government departments - and some business owners had told The Queanbeyan Age that the large backdated bills could force them to close.

Affected business owners formed the Queanbeyan Ratepayers Association during the crisis as a point of shared support, and vice president Lisa Robinson told The Queanbeyan Age on Wednesday that the group was looking forward to the notices being quashed.

"It would be a big relief for us. It's dragged on and on," she said.

However Ms Robinson said Council needed to now hold a full enquiry into how and why the invoices were issued in the first place.

"Without knowing how this happened, what's to stop it happening again? That's the only course of action," Ms Robinson said. "The ratepayers deserve an answer."

It's a move backed by Cr Jamie Cregan, who said he'd move a motion a full public enquiry be held into the situation.

"When it's such a balls up, we need to have an enquiry," Cr Cregan said.

"The fact that they're now going to be made invalid is a great outcome for ratepayers, but they shouldn't have been put in this situation in the first place.

"We need to have an enquiry that fully investigates the way in which the supplementary rates situation was handled, at all levels of Council from its origins. And we need to have the proper administrative processes put in place to ensure it never happens again."

However Mayor Overall said that Council had already reviewed its administrative procedures internally, and that should be overseen by Council's audit committee rather than a full enquiry.

"That's [holding a review]not envisaged. It's a matter of moving forward, and I can't see any value in that," Cr Overall said.

Local State MP John Barilaro has also welcomed the news, and said it was a "simpler and cleaner" fix than a previous attempt to resolve the crisis by seeking a regulation change in NSW parliament.

"The next parliamentary sitting week would have seen the Government commence that option.

"Luckily the Silks have determined that Council are able to legally abandon these retrospective rates as they didn't follow proper procedure in the first place. This is a much simpler and cleaner conclusion to this impasse."