Ararat rates is­sue un­der mi­cro­scope

The Weekly Advertiser Horsham - - News - BY DEAN LAW­SON

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.

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