Perenjori, Chapman Valley, Mingenew shires stand by waiver of cyclone building fee Geraldton ruled out
Three Mid West shires have stood by their decision to waive building and planning fees for properties damaged by cyclone Seroja, while the City of Greater Geraldton will attempt to do the same after ruling the move illegal.
At a meeting last week, City of Greater Geraldton councillors agreed not to waive fees for building, demolition and planning application fees for construction related to the April natural disaster, after the City received advice it would be illegal to do so under multiple sections of the Building Act.
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City officers identified 14 homes, mainly in rural areas, that had been destroyed and more than 30 seriously damaged, with many farm buildings and properties within the Geraldton township also sustaining minor to significant damage.
They estimated waiving the fees for about 50 building applications could cost the City between $14,250 and $24,000.
City CEO Ross McKim said if the fees were not paid, the permit authority could not grant the application, but officers would approach the State Building Commissioner to determine if there was a process to waive or refund fees.
“If a process is possible, the report can be returned to council for consideration,” he said.
Mayor Shane Van Styn took to Facebook to defend the decision, saying the minimum fee was set by State law at $110 and could not be lowered or waived by local government.
The Perenjori, Mingenew and Chapman Valley shire councils carried motions to waive the fees in May, with chief executives from each shire telling The Geraldton Guardian their legal advice had not indicated the practice would affect the legality of applications.
In its report to the council, the Shire of Chapman Valley cited a clause in the planning and development regulations which allowed for a local government to waive or refund, in whole or in part, payment of a fee for a planning service.
CEO Maurice Battilana said he saw no problem with his Shire waiving the fees, and would stand by the decision unless it became an issue.
“I applaud the City of Greater Geraldton on seeking their own legal advice, but we got different advice,” he said.
“If we have to charge a fee, we will just refund it.”
Shire of Perenjori chief executive Mario Romeo said waiving the fees was the right thing to do to help the community get back on its feet.
“People in our community have been uninsured or under-insured, but even if they were (insured) it’s been a drawn-out process (to receive refunds),” he said.
“We acted on the advice we received from the (State) Government.
“The City of Greater Geraldton actually manage our building applications because we don’t get too many, and haven’t contacted us to see how we passed it.”
Shire of Mingenew chief executive Nils Hay also said his Shire was confident in its decision, but would contact Mr McKim to discuss the issue.
Mingenew’s building and planning applications are handled by the Shire of Chapman Valley.
All four local governments — as well as Northampton, Morawa, Shark Bay and Dalwallinu — received exemptions from the Department of Mines, Industry Regulation and Safety for the payment of the building services levy for people affected by Seroja.
However, the Construction Training Fund levy was unable to be waived for applications exceeding an estimated $20,000 in value, but the councils were advised the CTF Board would “explore options” to provide targeted support to the construction workforce engaged in relevant rebuilds.
The Shire of Northampton, which governs Kalbarri, elected not to waive fees and would use the collected fees to fund additional staff to process the applications.
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