HORSHAM RURAL CITY COUNCIL will begin implementing its 2020-21 budget, ahead of an attempt to retract it.
At its meeting on Monday night, Councillor John Robinson announced his intention to move a rescission motion, after councillors voted five to two to adopt it.
When you at the actual cost of COVID-19 to our budget, it equates to $2.397 million to this community- Pam Clarke
A council spokesman said the mayor and chief executive would now decide whether a special meeting would take place to consider the rescission motion, or this be considered at the next ordinary meeting in August.
The draft budget includes:
- A $1.25 million deficit for the year ($58.7 million in revenue, $59.9 million in expenditure)
- A 3.14 per cent increase in rates for residential land
- A 4.58 per cent increase for farm land
- An overall rate increase of 2 per cent
- A $484,000 business and community assistance program in response to COVID-19
- $100,000 for planning work for an alternative truck route
- $491,000 for decontamination work at the council's Selkirk Road Depot
- A 4.65 per cent increase in garbage costs for residents with 120L bins
Councillor Pam Clarke, who moved the motion to adopt the budget, said after the debate the rate increase would be spent on supporting businesses heavily affected by the pandemic.
During debate, she congratulated council staff on submitting "one of the most difficult budgets that's ever had to be produced".
"When you at the actual cost of COVID-19 to our budget, it equates to $2.397 million to this community," she said.
"To have been able to squeeze that out of the budget by reducing services and costs of things has been a mammoth task. I think this council has acted very responsibly in the way it has formatted this budget.
"Our insurance is going up by 18 per cent, our software licensing going up 22 per cent, kerbside recycling going up 12 per cent... we have rising cost as every business has ever year, but we've had to contain that within the budget as well.
"It has responded to the concerns of our community. We have changed the budget accordingly."
Cr Robinson said the council should have considered a zero per cent rate rise, instead of two per cent.
"The federal and state governments have been very good at supporting the community, and we just seem to be the scrooges in this," he said. "We've passed the ball back our community and a zero per cent rate rise would not cost us a lot. We are clearly in a recession and heading for a long-term depression, so we need to make every dollar count and we are not doing that.
"(City to River) issues remain unresolved as far as authorisation goes, and it should, as I've consistently said, be put to one side until then."
Councillor David Grimble also said he could not support a rate rise increase.
"The budget has some good initiatives about it... the community grants, and it does highlight support for the COVID-19 environment," he said.
"We know we are now into a recession, we hear the financial statements coming from the state and federal governments, that these budgets are going to take decades to fix. At a time when this pandemic is only starting to escalate, I agree with Cr Robinson that we should be budgeting for a zero rate increase.
"The rate revenue increase this year is ($687,615) in additional rate revenue that won't circulate in our local economy.
"We have to understand the impact rate revenue has on the flipside of the scale.
When you tax your community at an unreasonable level, more disposable income is being allocated to government services and not the community. That situation is unsustainable- David Grimble
"I think we should have gone a lot harder on this."
Cr Grimble said there had been no material provided to councillors to consider what a rate increase might have looked like, though he had been requesting this since March.
Councillor Les Power also congratulated staff for putting together the budget. He said farm rating would be a key problem the new council elected in October would need to solve.
"At the moment it's very difficult to see what the next 12 months or two years will give to us in relation to this. To give others more in rate reductions to some groups than others, it's very difficult to understand how we can go about that at this time," he said.
"I'm speaking to a lot of people that have part time work or no work at all, and wonder where they will be in 12 months time.
I speak to many businesspeople in Horsham... that are now scratching their heads and say 'What are we going to do when it comes to paying our rates and making a profit?'.- Les Power
"I think we need to look further than just persons on a farm. They are a business too I understand that, but they have to be looked at as a business, not just farmers. We've got to have a very serious look at what we class as large farms and commercial farms in relation to our budget."
Councillors urge residents to keep seeking help
At the meeting a report presented to the council noted a report on the number of residents seeking relief through its Rates and Charges Hardship Policy.
"We've had 73 requests for hardship, 42 in April, 17 in May and 14 in June," she said.
"We've softened our aproach to debt collection and talked to many people about their hardship issues, and we sent text messages to 996 people who were overdue with their animal registrations, and people appreciated that.
"I've spoken to some people that contacted (Council Financial Hardship Counsellor) Andrea Hogan, and said they were treated with a great deal of dignity and respect."
Cr Alethea Gulvin noted is was "a horrible time for a lot of people and families".
"I urge people to come to council and try to seek that (financial) support that they require," she said.
Cr Power said: "I just hope we can put the message out there that it's there for a reason, it's there if you're struggling.
Don't be one of those tough nuts that says 'I'll get over it'. Please put your hand up, make. phone call or pop into the office.- Les Power
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