Ararat rates issue under microscope
The State Government has entered a controversial Ararat rates debate by appointing a Commission of Inquiry to assess circumstances surrounding the issue.
The move is the latest in a simmering dispute that has attracted unprecedented farmer response and threatened to undermine connectivity between Ararat urban and rural ratepayers.
It is also in response to lobbying based on fears that a proposed Ararat rates change might have the potential to financially cripple the municipality’s farming industry.
The commission, appointed under the Local Government Act, will consider the efficiency and effectiveness of a new council-rates plan that councillors were scheduled to vote on last night.
It will report on the Ararat council consultative process in developing budget and rating strategies as well as the council’s administrative capacity.
The commission will also consult Ararat ratepayers on the council’s budget and rating plans before making recommendations to Ararat councillors and the State Government.
The government will announce independent commission members this week and the commission is scheduled to announce its findings by August 1.
The government appointed the Commission of Inquiry after the Victorian Farmers Federation and Ararat mayor Paul Hooper requested state intervention.
Liberal Member for Western Victoria Simon Ramsay and Member for Lowan Emma Kealy had also called for action.
The Ararat council vote to eliminate a farm differential and municipal charge in favour of a uniform rates system caused a major backlash from the rural sector. The decision meant farmers would suddenly shoulder the lion’s share of the Ararat municipal rates burden.
Victorian Farmers Federation, concerned that other regional councils might consider similar action in spreading the ratepayer load, has strongly campaigned against the formula.
The State Government, in announcing the Commission of Inquiry, explained in a prepared statement that Ararat Rural City Council, similar to all councils, was entitled to make its own decision on differential rates.
But it added that changes ‘this extreme’ deserved more careful consideration.
Cr Hooper said he was unsure how the commission appointment would affect the council’s day-to-day operations but confirmed that last night’s meeting would proceed.
“Issues published in the agenda can only be withdrawn, deferred or not acted on through a motion. I would suspect a rational council decision on draft rating and budget decisions would be deferred until an August council meeting,” he said.
• VFF fears for farmer health, page 15.