RATEPAYERS of Horsham Rural City Council can have their say on the future of the council’s rating strategy.
At its January meeting on Tuesday night, the council discussed its Rating Strategy Review which was created by the Rates Strategy Advisory Committee.
The council passed a motion to note the report, and to place the draft Rating Policy and draft Rating Strategy for 2019-23 on public exhibition to seek community feedback.
Horsham council rates rose to the capped increase of 2.25 per cent, on average, in 2018-19. However a breakdown of the rates meant residential rates decreased by 0.6 per cent, while farm rates increased by 11.8 per cent.
The independent committee consisted of nine ratepayers and two advisers. It presented its report to council in December.
The report outlined five major recommended changes to the council’s Rating Strategy.
- A further farm rate differential discount of 13 per cent. This would decrease the differential from 80 per cent to 67 per cent of the general rate.
- A discount for commercial and industrial differentials of five per cent. It would make the differential for those sectors 95 per cent of the general rate.
- A flat municipal charge was also proposed. This would reduce the fixed dollar municipal charge per property from $287 to $200.
- Rebates for pensioners were also suggested, with the council recommended to give a $30 per property rebate for all eligible ratepayers. This would be in addition to the state-funded pensioner rebate that already exists. The introduction of a $30 rebate for eligible pensioner assessments was estimated to cost $53,000.
- A differential review trigger. The trigger would have a margin of error of five per cent relative to the valuation movement of each sector.
Cr John Robinson said the changes proposed by the committee were similar to those proposed by himself and Cr David Grimble last year.
Cr Grimble made a notice of motion at an special council meeting in June to increase the farm differential to 70 per cent.
“The 67 per cent differential still remains excessive even though it is what the committee has proposed,” Cr Robinson said.
“I’m also concerned regarding some comments made in the chamber at the time Cr Grimble and myself were defending the rural ratepayers, relating to governance.
“It’s also interesting to note the word of one of the committee members, who said ‘If the council had done it right in the first place, then there would be no need for the committee’.”
Cr Grimble agreed with Cr Robinson.
“We have been provided with a report with guidance of what a clear, fair and equal rating system looks like. We already knew what the farmers were asking for – they were clearly advocating for a 2.25 per cent increase, but we didn’t do that,” he said.
The strategy was undertaken in conjunction with the development of the council Budget. The operations of running the committee cost $75,000, which was met through the 2018-19 Budget.
Cr Grimble said $75,000 was spent to tell the council what it already knew.
“I encourage the community to have their say. If we get the feedback, we need to listen to the community and what they have to say. We are out of touch,” he said.
McKenzie Creek farmer Neville McIntyre attended the meeting. He said the proposed farm rate differential of 67 per cent of the general rate still wasn’t enough.
“The suggested 33 per cent isn’t enough when we have asked for 40 per cent for so many years. The 33 per cent will basically take the farm rates back to where they were in 2017,” he said.
“I don’t think it’s going to be enough because they are going to do another revaluation this year which is going nullify any rate increase as far as I’m concerned.
“It’s only a draft at the moment, but the devil is going to be when the revaluations will be done again. A lot of farmers will be paying large increases.”
Mr McIntyre’s rates remained neutral in 2018-19 due to his properties not being revalued, however he had a 55 per cent rate increase in 2017-18. It was an increase of $2700 on one of his blocks.
“Last year’s rate decision will stick in farmers’ minds for many years to come,” he said.
“If they revalued the whole shire in one year, it would show how much the actual differential would have to be.”
The Victorian Labor government made a pre-election promise to launch an inquiry into the state’s council rating system if re-elected. It is yet to announce an inquiry.
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