McKENZIE Creek farmer Neville McIntyre is celebrating a win for Horsham Rural City ratepayers after council agreed to provide property owners with individual assessment valuations.
Councillors were divided on Monday night, with five of the seven councillors voting in favour of making the 2014 revaluation information available to ratepayers before Valuer General certification.
Council released its 2014-15 draft rating strategy, draft budget and revaluations of property values on May 19, calling for feedback from ratepayers.
Mr McIntyre accused council of concealing information in order to pass this year’s budget without objections.
He said council’s draft budget contained minimal information about how much rates, farm values and the farm differential would increase.
The draft rating strategy proposes lifting the farm rating differential to 20 per cent and increasing municipal rates to five per cent.
The 2014 revaluations suggest the value of farm land had increased by 22.4 per cent.
“According to council this was supposed to be enough information for us to base a submission on,” Mr McIntyre said.
He said he asked Mayor David Grimble to put the issue to a council committee meeting on May 26.
“No was council’s response – the information would not be released under any circumstance, even though this gesture has been available for years,” Mr McIntyre said.
He then wrote to council to formally request the information be made available to all ratepayers before the Valuer General’s certification.
“We also have to recognise that better engagement with the community does actually take time and therefore does cost us extra money.''
After much debate, council voted in favour of his request.
Cr Heather Phillips said it was in the best interest of council to be open and transparent.
“We have the information – it’s sitting there – it just needs to be extracted,” she said.
“When we ask the community for feedback on our strategies, we have to accept that people making submissions might actually need further information or help to understand what is going on.
“We also have to recognise that better engagement with the community does actually take time and therefore does cost us extra money, because it takes staff additional time to look up the information and put it in a format that’s understandable and put it out.”
Speaking against the motion, Cr Pam Clarke said this could place a large burden on council staff.
“I just think if you do it for one, you must be prepared to do it for all,” she said.
“If we openly give out this information then we are setting a precedent.
"There might be 100 people at the counter the next day.”
Cr Grimble does not believe the floodgates will open.
“When we had our budget information session we had two people attend for what is a significant budget of this council,” he said.
“We will not be run off our feet. And if we get 10 or 15 or 50 or 100, surely it’s the role of council to provide that information.”
Cr Grimble said ratepayers were entitled to an indication of their assessment.
“I don’t think we would set a precedence, because in the past our ratepayers have had access to the valuations prior to them being ticked off by the auditor general,” he said.
Cr Mark Radford voted against the motion because the valuations were not yet certified.
“I agree people should have access to their valuations – but what I do trip my toe on is that we’re bending the rules set by the Valuer General,” he said.
“Is council taking a risk releasing information pre-certification, or is the ratepayer taking the risk by accepting that information realising that it could change?
“There is a lot of pressure on local councils to follow rules and do the right thing.”