By Cam Lucadou-Wells
A Keysborough Ward candidate has spoken out against a fellow party member’s proposed “stunt” to remove a $350 open-spaces levy on a neighbouring ward’s residents.
ALP member candidate Sheree Samy said the pledge to remove the levy by Keysborough South Ward candidate and Labor member Stephen Fanous was “on par with Trump’s border wall with Mexico”.
“It’s less than a dollar a day,” Ms Samy said.
“Most of the people in Keysborough South can walk to it, whereas others living in Greater Dandenong have to drive to reach it and would have to spend more than a dollar a day for fuel to get to the parks.”
The ‘maintenance levy’, which raised $1.55 million in 2019-’20, has been charged on the estates’ ratepayers since 2006.
According to Greater Dandenong Council, it covers the higher cost of maintaining the area’s 20 per cent open space – four times more than other estates.
Mr Fanous has pledged to knock on every home’s door in the ward to petition for the levy’s removal.
“It’s unfair, it’s been going on for many years.
“Those facilities are used and made available to all people in the City of Greater Dandenong.
“Now more than ever, especially with Covid-19, people are going through tough times and we need to work as hard as we can to remove it.”
Ms Samy said she would not support the council taking money from poor people to “service the rich”.
Policies should not just look after residents of “our own wards” but “do the right thing” for all Greater Dandenong residents, she said.
“Council will still have to maintain it and will charge higher rates to the rest of the residents to maintain these parks, many of who live in units valued less than $400,000 with no car and cannot get to those parks they have paid for.
“Are you suggesting all those people living in their million dollar mansions cannot afford less than a dollar a day for all the privileges they enjoy close by and … are the reason their mansions are valued so high?”
Keysborough Ward Liberal member candidate Tim Dark said he didn’t have a “certain position” on the levy.
He said the levy was charged to maintain a lot of large parks and high-maintenance playgrounds. But they were attended by a lot of people in Greater Dandenong, he said.
Ms Samy’s comments are another sign of tension between Mr Fanous, who signed up this year to the ALP, and other Labor member candidates.
As reported in Star Journal recently, ALP member candidates in his ward were reluctant to preference Mr Fanous.
They however agreed that the council should at least review the contentious levy.
Rival ALP member candidate Ramy El-Sukkari said the maintenance fund was initially intended to last for just three years. Now there seems to be no end-point, he said.
He has sought an explanation on what the levy was used for, given its reserve fund held a “surplus” of about $1.7 million.
“We’ve got people affected by Covid and families are really struggling.
“So is the $350 levy justifiable? Can it be reduced? Is there a way of scrapping it all completely?”
Greens candidate Rhonda Garad said residents should be getting better value for money.
“I don’t support removing it, because the council need extra resources to maintain the extra parks and gardens.
“But residents should be getting more timely, quality service. At the moment, they’re not getting it.”
Greater Dandenong corporate services director Mick Jaensch said the levy paid 75 per cent of the maintenance cost, with the council’s general funds covering the rest.
In 2019-’20 the levy raised $1.55 million. Only $1.442 million was spent, the rest remaining in the levy’s reserve fund, Mr Jaensch said.
The reserve fund of $1.72 million was expected to be drawn down in future years due to rising maintenance costs, he said.
Tasks such as mowing, tending garden beds, playground, footpath, fencing and furniture repairs, tree planting, lighting and graffiti removal are funded.
Melbourne Water maintains the open spaces’ vegetation up to the high-water mark.