Special Charge Scheme community consultation guidelines

The following provides a guide for Council regarding community consultation methods for the various types of Special Charge Schemes.

Informal consultation

For all Special Charge Schemes the informal consultation process includes information provided to property owners over and above the minimum requirement of the Local Government Act 1989 (The Act).

Some schemes such as roads and drainage schemes are more complex in nature and usually more expensive. When this is the case, the informal consultation may commence with a community meeting. In some cases, depending on the number of affected property owners, this may evolve into the establishment of a Community Reference Panel. A Community Reference Panel is best described as a smaller group of property owners who represent the interests of all property owners within the scheme boundary.

Prior to any meetings or correspondence with the community, a scheme proposal is fully developed ‘up front’ in order to disclose all aspects of the Special Charge Scheme, including estimated charges. This ensures that the community is consulted in the most transparent means possible.

The following table shows the steps at the initiation stage of a Special Charge Scheme and the general timelines for processing:

Document Description Timeline
Initiation Letter This letter describes the scope of work and explains how the scheme proposal was initiated. This letter may include invitation to attend a community meeting depending on the complexity of the scheme. Approximately three (3) to five (5) weeks is required prior to the initiation letter for full scheme development and scheme administration.
Special Charge Scheme Brochure This brochure provides more detailed information on Special Charge Schemes. It is designed to answer many of the general questions that the property owners may have.  
Plan A simple plan shows the concept of the proposal and the affected properties. More detailed plans are provided at community meetings or on request.  
Benefit Ratio Calculation The scheme is developed to such an extent that a reasonable cost estimate of the project can be established. A benefit ratio is then developed that informs the affected property owners of the funds they are expected to contribute towards the project and the funds that Council will be contributing.  
Cost apportionment spread sheet This spread sheet provides property owners a first hand review of the anticipated charges for all affected properties within the scheme.  
Survey Form The survey is simplistic in nature and is designed to gauge the level of support or opposition to a scheme proposal and also provides an opportunity for property owners to make comment to the proposal. This is sent out with the initiation letter for footpath schemes but after the community meeting for the more complex schemes. A minimum two (2) weeks is offered for the property owners to respond to the survey.
Survey Results If the survey results indicate a lack of support, this is summarised in the ‘Intention to Declare’ report for Council consideration and depending on the percentage of property owner contribution, some schemes must be abandoned at this stage. The scheme will generally not be revisited within five (5) years unless further evidence of support is provided by concerned property owners.
Formal Consultation The formal consultation process follows the period of informal consultation. The scheme will either proceed to ‘Intention to Declare’ or be abandoned via Council consideration or via legislative requirements.  

Where a Benefit Ratio calculation has determined that property owners are to contribute more than two thirds of the total project cost, as per legislation a majority objection means that a scheme cannot proceed except for the case of drainage schemes declared for reasons of public health.

In all footpath Special Charge Schemes, in accordance with Council Policy, property owners will be asked to pay a maximum 50% contribution hence negating the ‘majority rules’ scenario. In the case of the informal survey indicating a majority objection for these schemes, the ‘Intention to Declare’ report will detail the survey results for Council consideration. This may occur up to two (2) months after the survey has closed due to report drafting and processing required through to a Council meeting.

Formal Consultation

The formal consultation process is carried out in accordance with the Act and commences when Council makes it ‘Intention to Declare’ a Special Rate or Charge Scheme. All of the mandated information is provided to the property owners at this time in a ‘precise’ manner that cannot be varied and is non negotiable from a legislative perspective. The following table summarises the steps in this process and additional timelines:

Document Description Timeline
Intention to Declare Should Council resolve to make it Intention to Declare a Special Charge Scheme, all property owners have a right to make a submission under Section 223 of the Act. The scheme is advertised in the local news paper. There is a mandatory 28 day submissions period that provides property owners with sufficient time to lodge their submissions.
Submissions Review Panel A three (3) member Council Advisory Committee is established to hear all submissions from property owners. Usually occurs within two (2) months after the submissions period has closed.
Declaration Report A report to Council with a recommendation to make a declaration of charges (‘Declaration Report’). Levy notices are mailed out to all affected property owners and include mandatory information. This report is usually presented to Council within two (2) months of the Submissions Review Panel hearing.
Appeal Should Council resolve to declare the charges, all property owners have a right of appeal to VCAT. This information is included in the Levy Notice There is a further mandatory one month VCAT referral period.
VCAT Should VCAT receive an appeal application, a hearing date is set. Hearing dates may be set by VCAT usually within one (1) to six (6) months.
Construction Should VCAT confirm the scheme, Council is cleared to proceed to construction Works may be programmed within a six (6) month period depending on programming, tendering and permit application requirements.

Schemes are progressed through the various stages but no guarantee can be made of an outcome. In circumstances that lead to the abandonment of a scheme such as insufficient property owner support, Council considerations or VCAT ruling; a scheme will generally not be reinitiated for a minimum period of five (5) years.

Page last updated: Wednesday, 19 February 2020