Wellington Shire Council is committed to maintaining the existing 3,000km road network and footpaths and drains in good order and conducts maintenance accordingly. New subdivisions are paid for by developers and the costs ultimately passed onto property purchasers, however upgrades to residential roads involving sealing of unsealed roads or providing kerb and channel, footpaths or drainage where they don’t currently exist are generally paid for through Special Charge Schemes.
What are Special Charge Schemes?
The Local Government Act 1989 enables Councils to levy rates and charges against individual properties for upgrade works that will directly benefit those properties. This process is controlled by the ‘Wellington Shire Council Special Charge Schemes Policy - Roads, Streets and Drainage Works’.
In the past Special Charge Schemes have been used to fund a range of infrastructure upgrade works including roads, kerb and channel, footpaths and drains. It is important to note that:
- A Special Charge will only be levied where a property will derive a benefit from the works carried out, and
- Council will not apply a Special Charge Scheme if the majority of property owners oppose the scheme
- Special Charge Schemes are not used for maintenance purposes
Special Charge Scheme Process
The Wellington Shire Council follows a set process before proceeding with a Special Charge Scheme.
1. Informal Stages
A scheme can be initiated by property owners, Ratepayer Associations/Community Groups or by Council itself.
An initial survey may be held followed by a Public Meeting to outline the scheme and projected costs to affected property owners. If there appears to be sufficient support from property owners then a report from the meeting will be presented to Council. At this stage if Council resolves to progress the proposal further, then a non binding survey is mailed to all affected property owners seeking support or objection to the proposed scheme.
2. Formal Consultation
If Council decides to proceed past this point then it must follow a formal consultation process detailed under Section 163 of the Local Government Act 1989. This process requires Council to:
- Define the boundary of the scheme
- Identify all properties to be included, including Council owned properties
- Establish construction standards
- Prepare a detailed cost estimate
- Establish what contribution, if any, is to be made by Council in respect of general public benefit
- Prepare an apportionment of costs. Which shows the estimated cost to be charged against each property
3. Public Notification
If Council decides to continue with the proposal after considering all the details it will publicise the proposal in a number of ways:
- Formal mail out of notices to all affected property owners
- Placing of public notices in the local press
- Invite property owners and the general community to make written submissions on the proposal
It is important to note that under the Special Charge Scheme section of the Local Government Act 1989, if an owner does not submit an objection then it is assumed that they agree with the proposal.
4. Consideration of Submissions
Council must consider all written submissions. This includes hearing submitters who request to speak in support of their submissions. It is normal for a Council Panel to be appointed to hear submitters.
If after considering all submissions Council decides to proceed with the proposal it must do so by formally Declaring the Special Charge. Council cannot proceed with a Special Charge Scheme if the majority of the property owners formally object.
5. Declaring the Special Charge
Declaring the Special Charge is carried out by a formal resolution of Council. Following this declaration a notice is served on all property owners in the scheme. This notice details the estimated cost to each property and provides information on the rights of property owners to appeal the Council decision.
Appealing Council’s Decision to Declare a Special Charge
A Council decision to declare a Special Charge Scheme can be appealed by application to the Victorian Civil and Administrative Tribunal (VCAT). Property owners who appeal the Council decision do so by making written submissions to VCAT. A VCAT panel is appointed to hear both Council and the appellants. The decision of VCAT is final and binding.
Property owners will be invoiced for the cost of the Scheme a short time after the start of works. Property owners are usually given various payment options. Council charges interest if owners choose to pay by instalments, in the same way as it does with standard Council rates and charges.
Sharing Costs of the Scheme
In apportioning costs between properties every endeavour is made to achieve a fair and equitable distribution of costs. Where an established or proven community benefit is included in a scheme, Council is required to contribute to the scheme in proportion to the community benefit.
Frequently Asked Questions
Q. I pay rates why do I have to pay for this also?
A. Council provides a wide range of services from its rate revenue, including road maintenance. The cost of maintenance does not include improvements such as sealing of an unsealed road or provision of kerb and channel, footpaths or drainage when they are not currently provided. Accordingly, Council has adopted the policy that the cost of significant residential road, drainage or footpath upgrades must be met by those properties which benefit from the improvements.
Q. What is it going to cost me?
A. A preliminary cost estimate for the ‘average’ property will be available at the initial public meeting. More detailed estimates are provided as the proposal progresses.
Q. What is the benefit to me?
A. For the proposal to proceed there must be a direct benefit to the property , eg. reduced dust, improved access, improved safety for vehicles and pedestrians, reduction in road noise or improved storm water control. Frequently owners also find their property improves in value after the work is complete.
Q. Will the Council be contributing?
A. Council contributions are determined on a case by case basis. They will only apply if there is an established or proven community benefit provided by the scheme.