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Sophie Boyd 27/4/18
Lawyer says culture ‘toxic’ at Wodonga Council and class action possible
Wangaratta lawyer John Suta, and a senior solicitor at Shine Lawyers confirmed Wodonga Council has opened itself up to a possible class action by ratepayers, after the Ombudsman revealed an $18 million overcharge over a decade.
Shine Lawyer’s senior solicitor Tristan Gaven said he was interested in holding a town hall meeting to inform residents about their rights.
“We believe there may be a basis for a class action based on a claim for restitution by the ratepayers,” Mr Gaven said.
Ratepayers were overcharged thus bringing financial loss and damage on ratepayers – it’s ratepayers money not councils.
Wangaratta lawyer John Suta on a potential class action against Wodonga Council
While there may be issues in relation to limitation periods for amounts paid more than six years ago, in the event that an action was successful, ratepayers would be entitled to recover all charges that were held to be invalid by the court plus interest.”
Mr Suta told The Border Mail one of his clients, who worked as a strategic asset manager from January 2007, complained about the actions of senior staff to the Ombudsman.
“My client made a complaint to the Ombudsman under an alias, as at the time they were still employed by council,” Mr Suta said.
“The complaint was basically that (they were) overcharging for waste services above the cost of the services, subjecting the community to excess charges and inflicting a financial cost on ratepayers.”Mr Suta said ratepayers, as a whole, were overcharged by $3.37 million in 2015-16 alone and $3.033 million in 2016-17 at an individual cost of $90.90 to each ratepayer in 2016 and $74.99 in 2017, Mr Suta said.
“What council did was they undertook a course of action where there was significant financial cross-subsidisation from waste to other departments, which obviously was not the real cost to service,” he said. But, he said, it was up to the public to decide if they wanted to take action on principle.
“Ratepayers were overcharged thus bringing financial loss and damage on ratepayers, it’s ratepayers money not council’s,” he said.
“It could place a principle financial burden on council, but transparency should override the financial burden on council, never mind the fact of public trust.”
Mr Suta said former employees at council say the culture is “toxic”, and said resigning was “absolutely the right thing” for Wodonga chief executive Patience Harrington to do.
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• Wodonga Council’s ‘intent was clear’ in overcharging for waste, says Ombudsman
• President Jack Davis Ratepayers Victoria states the buck stops with the CEO and calls for the dismissal of the CEO CR Harrington
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