New rates hike may be illegal

FRASER Coast Mayor Gerard O'Connell has hit back at claims the new non-owner-occupier rates category is potentially illegal.

Hervey Bay resident Paul Hefferan has contacted the council to let them know the new rates could be illegal following a recent court decision involving the Bowen Shire Council.

In that case, the Court of Appeal upheld a complaint from several mining companies, including Xstrata, about their rates bills.

It ruled the former Bowen Shire Council should not have put mining companies in a different rating category because of their capacity to pay more.

Cr O'Connell agreed a council could not impose rates on a particular company or those within a certain income bracket, but said the non-owner-occupier rates were purely based on the property values as required.

He said the people falling within this category would only be facing an increase of about 50 cents per week, which they might be able to write off as a tax expense anyway.

"My understanding is these are legitimate costs of having an investment property and therefore they should be tax deductible," Cr O'Connell said.

He said a best practice review of councils all over Queensland led to the decision to introduce the non-owner-occupier rates.

"There are dozens of other councils that do it already," he said.

Cr O'Connell said one example was the Ipswich Council which charged a higher amount than on the Fraser Coast, after introducing the rates under Mayor Paul Pisasale six years ago.

"These funds give us the capacity to do the work needed to enhance our region," he said.

Mr Hefferan did not dispute that other councils also charged non-owner-occupier rates, but questioned the timing of them being introduced on the Fraser Coast.

Not only was it just after the Xstrata versus Bowen decision, but it was also with an entirely new set of councillors who had only just been elected to office.

"I think it was introduced by a naive lot of new councillors, who hadn't thought through the ramifications," he said.

"We need the council to be successful but they need to be able to accept when they have made a mistake.

"This is an opportunity for the council to say 'we've pulled the wrong rein,' and vow to do things differently at the next budget."

Cr O'Connell said the Local Government Association of Queensland was also examining the controversial rates across the state and the council would abide by any decision it made.

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