The Weekly Advertiser

Horsham council denies farmers’ rates appeal; Northern Grampians increases farm differential

Farmers gather outside Horsham Rural City Council before a rates meeting.

Farmers gather outside Horsham Rural City Council before a rates meeting.

By SARAH SCULLY
Horsham Rural City Council has denied an eleventh-hour plea to reduce a farm-rate burden despite a strong turnout of disgruntled farmers at a budget meeting on Monday.
About 100 residents, primarily from the rural sector, rallied outside Horsham Civic Centre ahead of the meeting, calling for a ‘fair go’ on rates.
Under the council’s 2018-19 draft budget and rating strategy, the farm sector was facing a rate increase of 11.8 percent, while the residential sector was due to decrease by 0.6 percent.

The last-minute show of support stemmed from a callout at a Victorian Farmers Federation rally at Kalkee on Friday. About 150 farmers from across the Wimmera attended the meeting, designed to raise awareness of the ‘unfair’ rate distribution in councils’ draft budgets and to call for a fair increase for all categories.
Federation president David Jochinke, who farms at Murra Warra north of Horsham, said he was pleased by the interest in Friday’s meeting.
“There was an excellent turnout. The interest goes to show we are talking about real people’s money and real people’s lives,” he said.

A full gallery at Horsham Rural City Council rates meeting.

A full gallery at Horsham Rural City Council rates meeting.


Meeting leaders called on those present to attend their council’s budget meeting. Both Northern Grampians Shire and Horsham Rural City adopted budgets on Monday.
Northern Grampians farmers in particular were facing large farm-rate spikes across the board due to a big rise in the value of farm land.
Northern Grampians mayor Tony Driscoll said on average, farm rates were due to go up 25 percent.
“A lot were due to go up 35 to 40 percent and higher,” he said.
“We saw that as untenable and in order to redress the situation we decided to make a 2.25 percent rate increase across our three sectors, residential, farming and recreation.
“It isn’t a perfect outcome but it helps ease some of the burden.” As a result, the council changed the farm rate differential from 65 percent to 52 percent.
Cr Driscoll said the council had limited capacity for change since it had to comply with the Local Government Act.
“The rating system is fundamentally flawed and we’re trying to do the best we can to even out the flaws,” he said.
Mr Jochinke said the council’s decision demonstrated councillors understood what the rate burden meant to the farming community.
“They also understand this is a band-aid solution and that there has to be a way to better handle rates distribution,” he said. “They have proven that councils have the ability to provide a fair and equitable distribution – if they have the gumption.”
Mr Jochinke said he was disappointed the Horsham council was given the same opportunity but chose not to follow suit.
“We do accept the role of a council is to make decisions but we don’t agree with the outcome,” he said.
“I don’t understand why we have to go to such great lengths to point out to councillors that if you increase the burden of one category drastically, yet decrease another, it is fundamentally unfair.”

David Grimble at Horsham Rural City Council rates meeting.

David Grimble at Horsham Rural City Council rates meeting.


Councillor David Grimble fought for what he believed was a ‘fair and equitable’ rate burden by asking the council to adopt the draft 2018-19 budget, but cap each class at no more than 2.25 percent – the State Government-imposed rate cap for 2018-19.
His proposal included generating a rate in the dollar applicable to each land class, maintaining a municipal charge at $281 and that council reduce its budget accordingly by deferring a $400,000 civic centre works allocation to cover the shortfall.
“Basically what this is doing is reducing the size of the pie and amending the way the pie is cut up,” he said.
“The objective of a council is to endeavour to achieve the best outcomes for the local community, having regard of the long-term and cumulative effect of decisions; to ensure the equitable impost of rates and charges; and to pursue spending and rating policies that are consistent with the degree of stability in the level of rate burden.
“I struggle to see how we could put the rate imbalance that is in our draft budget, yet we can allocate $400,000 to civil works inside this chamber.”
Cr Grimble said a 2.25 percent rate increase across the whole municipality was ‘easy to understand, easy to explain, is defendable and fair’.
“It does increase the residential sector, I acknowledge that, but if you work it through the land class assessments, it comes back to an average of about $30 per assessment. So it’s not a big impost,” he said.
David Grimble, Josh Koening and John Robinson at Horsham Rural City Council rates meeting.

David Grimble, Josh Koening and John Robinson at Horsham Rural City Council rates meeting.


Cr John Robinson supported Cr Grimble’s motion.
Fair outcome
He said the thrust of Friday night’s meeting at Kalkee was not about pitting one sector against another, but about coming up with a fair outcome for everyone.
“Legislatively, that’s what we’re obliged to come up with under the act,” he said.
“There is at least one person in this room who has had a rate increase of 60 percent and there are others around the 30 percent mark.
“People are happy to accept something that is reasonable… but no business can accept a 60 percent or a 30 percent cost hike in a reasonable component of its operations and expect to survive.”
But mayor Pam Clarke was concerned that changing the budget and introducing differentials for commercial and industrial sectors without community consultation could see the council end up in court.

“I completely understand what the farmers are going through and that’s why we need a proper consideration of rates – not just jumping to the loudest voice. We need to be making decisions that impact on the whole community and we need to be doing it fairly. We have a responsibility to comply with the act and to be fair to every sector of our community” – Pam Clark

She said legal advice showed if the council adopted Cr Grimble’s motion the organisation could be challenged in the supreme court on two grounds: Failing to include supporting differential rating information in the budget and failing to meet consultation requirements, which would result in a failure to preserve the principles of natural justice.
“I completely understand what the farmers are going through and that’s why we need a proper consideration of rates – not just jumping to the loudest voice,” she said.

HRCC chief executive Sunil Bhalla and mayor Pam Clark at Horsham Rural City Council rates meeting.

HRCC chief executive Sunil Bhalla and mayor Pam Clark at Horsham Rural City Council rates meeting.


“We need to be making decisions that impact on the whole community and we need to be doing it fairly.
“We have a responsibility to comply with the act and to be fair to every sector of our community.”
Cr Grimble’s motion was lost, with Crs Grimble, Josh Koenig and Robinson voting in favour and Crs Clarke, Radford and Les Power voting against.
With Cr Alethea Gulvin absent, Cr Clarke used her casting vote to defeat the motion.
Cr John Robinson also moved an amended motion which involved cutting items from the draft budget to ensure a zero percent increase in the rate burden from last year’s budget.
His motion, however, only received support from Cr Grimble.
In the end, four councillors voted in favour of adopting the draft budget and rating strategy presented to the community, with Crs Grimble and Robinson voting against.
Cr Grimble tabled a rates petition from the VFF signed by Horsham residents, which will lay on the table until the next council meeting, on July 2.

RELATED
Horsham mayor Pam Clarke responds to rating, budget decisions
Ratepayers urged to unite at VFF Kalkee rally
Early release of Horsham farm rates ‘a win’
Cr Mark Radford: Where I stand

A full gallery at Horsham Rural City Council rates meeting.

A full gallery at Horsham Rural City Council rates meeting.

A full gallery at Horsham Rural City Council rates meeting.

A full gallery at Horsham Rural City Council rates meeting.

The entire June 27, 2018 edition of The Weekly Advertiser is available online. READ IT HERE!

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Posted on Jun 27 2018

Posted by on Jun 27 2018. Filed under Agriculture, News, Politics. You can follow any responses to this entry through the RSS 2.0. You can leave a response or trackback to this entry

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