Council’s problem

WELLINGTON Shire Council has a problem.

It has been unable to deliver a full construction urban project through a Special Charge Scheme since council amalgamations in 1994.

Previous attempts by the council to redevelop private streets through its Special Charge Scheme policy have foundered on the rocks of residents’ rejection of paying the full costs.

And following Tuesday night’s meeting council is unlikely to remedy that outcome in the short term.

A proposal to alter the Special Charge Scheme Policy, to enable council to pay 40 per cent of construction costs in such projects, was rejected on the casting vote of mayor Peter Cleary.

Residents of private streets, such as Sale’s Marley St, have long argued the council should cover the cost of providing modern infrastructure, such as full bitumen seal, kerbing and underground drainage.

In new subdivisions, the cost of infrastructure provided by developers is passed onto each individual purchaser as part of the price of the lot, with that estimated to be about $20,000 for an average subdivision lot.

As the existing private street surfaces age council is facing the prospect of spending about $3.42 million in resheeting and rehabilitation works for the streets of Sale and Maffra, during the coming 10 years.

This will require ratepayers’ funds and Roads to Recovery funds.

In an attempt to overcome this impasse, Crs Leo O’Brien and Scott Rossetti proposed and seconded a recommendation council adopt the amended Special Charge Schemes – Roads, Street and Drainage Development Policy.

Cr O’Brien said the recommendation had been developed to address the lagging infrastructure problems the shire faced in its major towns.

“The recommendation in a nutshell is very simply we take the money we would normally utilise to upgrade the facilities currently there and put it into, to incorporate it into, a special charge scheme.

“So . . . council would use money they would normally use repairing the infrastructure . . . we use that money to contribute to a special charge scheme.

“I think it is a fair and equitable way to look at the way we do our infrastructure around the shire,” Cr O’Brien said.

“I know council has had a policy for many, many years around special charge schemes and I’m not firmly convinced that is the right policy for the whole of the shire.”

Cr Rossetti commented the current policy applied to streets essentially private in nature.

“For instance we could say Marley St . . . that if the people in that street wish to upgrade the road from say gravel to bitumen then the people in that street actually pay for that upgrade, “ Cr Rossetti said.

He explained the upgrades in Golden Beach and Briagolong had gone ahead because those upgrades had not required the level of infrastructure that people in the shire’s major towns expected.

Under the proposed policy, Cr Rossetti said, the finances that council would spend on restoring a road at the end of its useful life would be offered as a council contribution to a special charge scheme to upgrade the roads and drainage.

Opposing the proposal, Cr Darren McCubbin said where there was a shared facility, such as a swimming pool or a road used by a large number of people, council had an obligation to provide that shared facility.

“Where a facility can be isolated as only being used by as a private development for a certain number of people, as was the case in the Golden Beach scheme … Briagolong scheme … Loch Sport scheme you can draw a line around those roads and say those roads are only being used by those people, then there is a special charge scheme and those people pay for their road.”

Cr McCubbin pointed out all residents paid for their roads, whether in a new subdivision or in the cost of an established property.

“If you buy a house in Marley St, for example, which has a poorer road out front, (you would pay less) compared to a house in a street which has perfectly created guttering and channelling,” he said.

He argued changing the current policy would be unfair to those who took part in previous schemes.

“I will speak loudly for the people in Briagolong who would express some disappointment that council said no, no, if you want it you pay for it, that’s the way it is!

“Then they hear that we have decided to overturn that because we are now dealing with Sale and Maffra.

“I personally think that is unfair.”

Cr McCubbin said he would have preferred a proposal that involved equity across the shire and not different rules in one area to another.

He also argued the $3.42 million cost of the proposal would impose too great a burden on the ratepayers.

Cr O’Brien agreed it was good to have a vigorous discussion on the issue, pointing out millions was spent on rural roads and bridges that serviced only 10 or 20 properties without special charge schemes.

When put to the vote council was tied, with a division showing Crs O’Brien, Rossetti, Amos and Hildebrant supporting the motion and Crs Hole, McCubbin, Cook and Cleary opposing it.

Cr Cleary then used his casting vote to defeat the proposal and preserve the status quo.