ORANGE City Council will reintroduce a pensioner rate discount saving eligible ratepayers an average of $90 per year, but at a cost of almost $84,000 next year for other ratepayers.
In a heated debate at Thursday’s meeting, councillors agreed to introduce a 5 per cent rebate to ratepayers who had received a pension card since 2006 when the scheme was scrapped.
The 1800 ratepayers who held pensioner cards prior to 2006 will continue to receive a 10 per cent rebate.
The move came despite concerns from some councillors the decision should have been left up to the new council.
Cr Glenn Taylor led the push for a 10 per cent rebate, saying any type of relief for pensioners would be welcomed as times were tough.
A 5 per cent rebate for the 884 eligible rate assessments would cost ratepayers $83,662 next year.
Over time, council will lose $250,000 in income each year as more ratepayers become eligible.
Cr Taylor said he could point out $250,000 the council had wasted which could have gone to cover the cost of the discount.
Cr Chris Gryllis supported the rebate but pushed for a 5 per cent discount.
“I often visit people on pensions and it breaks your heart to see how they try to live,” he said.
Cr Gavin Priestley opposed the discount, but admitted his decision would not be popular.
“One of the constant complaints we get is local government getting involved in social things that aren’t our domain,” he said.
“We should push back on the state government; it falls squarely in their domain.”
Cr Jeff Whitton said council had already set a precedent as ratepayers who were pension cardholders before the scheme was scrapped still received a 10 per cent discount.
“They’ve worked hard to pay money that we’ll use for things like the indoor aquatic centre that they’ll probably never use,” he said.
Cr Reg Kidd said he supported a 5 per cent rebate, but suggested a decision should be deferred until the new council is elected in September.
Cr Fiona Rossiter agreed.
She said she was “keen to know” where Cr Taylor thought the council had wasted money.
But Cr Whitton said the current council had already made decisions on the rest of the council’s budget.
Cr John Davis said he would support a 5 or 10 per cent rebate only if the budget cuts that would be needed to fund the discount were revealed.
“Many of the people who rent houses are doing it as tough if not tougher [than ratepayers],” he said.
But Cr Whitton said council did not have authority to help rent-paying pensioners.
“But we do have the authority to help ratepayers,” he said.
“To say we can’t make a decision here tonight is just brushing it under the carpet.”
Under a state government subsidy, pensioners already receive an average of $425 off their council rates - 45 per cent of which is paid for by council at a cost of $513,315.