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Council rates debacle prompts state review

RATES RAGE: Council CEO Ken Diehm encouraged property owners to continue paying rates after a bombshell ruling from the Supreme Court over invalid rate charges over three years.
RATES RAGE: Council CEO Ken Diehm encouraged property owners to continue paying rates after a bombshell ruling from the Supreme Court over invalid rate charges over three years. Valerie Horton

QUEENSLAND'S peak local government body has conducted an urgent review of the state's biggest councils to ensure there were no more rating bungles.

Local Government Association of Queensland boss Greg Hallam said the organisation had confirmed the biggest councils were in the clear after Fraser Coast had issued invalid rates for the past three years.

"We checked yesterday with the biggest 22 councils, which collect 90 per cent of all rates in Queensland," Mr Hallam said.

"We just don't think there's an issue beyond Fraser Coast."

A Brisbane Supreme Court decision found Fraser Coast Regional Council failed to pass a separate resolution for rates and charges at its annual budget meetings.

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The court ruled three years' worth of rates from 2014-15 were invalid, exposing council to potential multimillion dollar claims for refunds.

Council's revenue from rates, levies and charges for the past three years totals almost $500 million, according to its latest annual report.

Council CEO Ken Diehm encouraged property owners to continue paying rates.

"We're investigating whether the decision applies to the years either side of the three years looked at by the Supreme Court, which it's likely that it did, so the amount could be substantially more," Mr Diehm said.

"We'll look at exhausting all avenues, and firstly that will be seeking leave for appeal."

When asked what council would be doing to rectify the situation for angry ratepayers, Mr Diehm said he didn't understand why they would be angry.

"I'm angry, it's very embarrassing to be the CEO of a local government to have this sort of thing happen," he said.

"But ratepayers shouldn't be angry, they paid their rates we believe were lawfully set, and they provided services for that.

"We just need to make sure this decision of the Supreme Court is overruled or reversed through legislative amendment."

It follows an earlier bungle where the council were forced to refund about $365,000 in cat registration fees because it failed to pass a bylaw after a legislative change at the state level.

Council is currently seeking legal advice about whether to launch an appeal of the court decision within the next four weeks.

If there is no appeal, the LGAQ will approach the State Government to make a retrospective legislative change after the election.

Ms Palaszczuk said she was taking action after being made aware of the court ruling.

"What I've asked my minister to do, Mark Furner, is to ring the LGAQ and get some preliminary advice," she said.

LNP Leader Tim Nicholls said he wanted to look at the court decision before making a commitment.

"We've come across this situation at a state level before and the state has always acted responsibly to ensure that councils are kept viable and functional and we would look at that," Mr Nicholls said.

"Whether it's a bail out or would require some special legislation would depend on the advice we receive."

Hervey Bay and Maryborough's candidates have also had their say on the issue.

Labor candidate for Hervey Bay Adrian Tantari said he would work with the LGAQ to figure out the best solution for council and the ratepayers after the election.

Independent candidate for Hervey Bay Jannean Dean said an administrator should be appointed.

"How much money has been wasted on these matters? The rate payers are paying for all this non-compliance because the council didn't follow the rules," Ms Dean said.

"The Supreme Court has ruled and the people responsible should be held accountable."

Maryborough's Independent candidate Roger Currie said the responsibility was with the councillors present at the budget meetings over the relevant years.

He said an administrator did not need to be appointed.

Topics:  fccouncil fraser coast regional council lgaq rates



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