Cit­i­zens jury has its say

The Weekly Advertiser Horsham - - News - BY DEAN LAWSON

Ararat district farm­ers might pay 45 per­cent of a gen­eral res­i­den­tial prop­erty rate if a new ‘cit­i­zens jury’ rec­om­men­da­tion with­stands fur­ther de­lib­er­a­tion and assess­ment to win an Ararat Ru­ral City Coun­cil tick of ap­proval.

The rate split might also in­clude Ararat com­mer­cial and in­dus­trial ratepay­ers pay­ing 125 per­cent, while a 10 per­cent mu­nic­i­pal charge, in­clud­ing a re­bate for pen­sion­ers, might ap­ply across the mu­nic­i­pal­ity.

The rec­om­men­da­tion also in­cludes a re­clas­si­fi­ca­tion of life­style or hobby farms as res­i­den­tial prop­er­ties.

A new-con­cept 25-mem­ber cit­i­zens jury, made up of a broad cross-sec­tion of Ararat district res­i­dents, voted for the rec­om­men­da­tion af­ter spend­ing Satur­day and Sun­day de­lib­er­at­ing over four al­ter­na­tive rat­ing plans.

The rec­om­men­da­tions are un­of­fi­cial, with the Ararat coun­cil com­mit­ted to re­spond­ing to a Rat­ing Strat­egy Ad­vi­sory Group that pre­sented the plans to the jury be­fore mak­ing pub­lic com­ment.

But The Weekly Ad­ver­tiser is con­fi­dent the jury over­whelm­ingly voted for ‘op­tion four’ of the rat­ing plans, ‘with mi­nor changes’.

Ararat’s cur­rent dif­fer­en­tial rat­ing sys­tem in­cludes 55 per­cent for farm­ing prop­er­ties, 120 per­cent in­dus­trial and 160 per­cent com­mer­cial and an over­all mu­nic­i­pal charge of about five per­cent.

Work to do

Ararat coun­cil chief ex­ec­u­tive Al­lan Baw­den said coun­cil­lors had been briefed on ad­vi­sory group and jury de­lib­er­a­tions and dur­ing the next few weeks would con­sider all rec­om­men­da­tions, in­for­ma­tion and data.

“There are ob­vi­ously a lot of de­tails to go through and a need for more mod­el­ling on the ideas that came for­ward dur­ing the process,” he said.

“New prop­erty val­u­a­tions are due at the end of April, which ob­vi­ously weren’t avail­able to the jury, and that has the po­ten­tial to in­flu­ence the rat­ing strat­egy – not the amount of rates, but how they are dis­trib­uted – so there is a bit of work still to do.

“The hope is that by the May coun­cil meet­ing the coun­cil will be in a po­si­tion to re­lease a draft rat­ing strat­egy for pub­lic com­ment.”

The ad­vi­sory process, which started in De­cem­ber, was in re­sponse to sig­nif­i­cant up­heaval last year when a coun­cil de­ci­sion to aban­don a dif­fer­en­tial rat­ing sys­tem prompted State Gov­ern­ment in­ter­ven­tion.

The ad­vi­sory group and jury process rep­re­sented a land­mark way for the coun­cil to en­gage with Ararat com­mu­nity on ma­jor projects af­fect­ing the mu­nic­i­pal­ity, such as rat­ing plans.

Mr Baw­den, who at­tended jury de­lib­er­a­tions to an­swer ques­tions, asked ju­rors to con­sider the re­port and an­swer ‘which rat­ing op­tion from the Rat­ing Strat­egy Ad­vi­sory Group is the most fair and eq­ui­table for Ararat?’

The process also asked ju­rors whether they could ‘draw on dif­fer­ent as­pects of each to reach a model which earned greater sup­port?’

Mr Baw­den said while ju­rors had a spe­cific scope to work to dur­ing the week­end, the topic of the coun­cil’s bud­get was at front of mind for many.

He said a gen­eral con­cern ex­pressed by mem­bers of the group was that the over­all rate bur­den for all ratepay­ers was too high.

“Jury mem­bers said there had been chal­lenges ar­riv­ing at their de­ci­sions due to some un­knowns go­ing for­ward,” he said.

“These in­clude fu­ture ex­pected val­u­a­tions and pos­si­ble changes to the Lo­cal Gov­ern­ment Act.”

Jury mem­ber Scott Nor­man said the jury wanted the coun­cil to un­der­take ‘an ex­ter­nal au­dit into fis­cal health to try and ex­tract cost sav­ings and in­crease ef­fi­cien­cies of op­er­a­tions’.

“This is with a view to low­er­ing the over­all rates bur­den, to more evenly dis­trib­ute the rates,” he said.

Jury de­lib­er­a­tions ended with a pre­sen­ta­tion to Ararat coun­cil­lors.

Deputy mayor Cr Gwenda All­good said she ad­mired the peo­ple who had vol­un­teered to be part of the process.

“It’s a very big task and a big learn­ing curve,” she said.

She said she was also proud to see all six coun­cil­lors in at­ten­dance to hear feed­back in per­son.

The make-up of the jury in­volved a ran­dom se­lec­tion of peo­ple from across the mu­nic­i­pal­ity who had reg­is­tered an in­ter­est to par­tic­i­pate.

In­de­pen­dent, non-par­ti­san re­search and de­vel­op­ment or­gan­i­sa­tion newdemoc­racy Foun­da­tion, work­ing with gov­ern­ment in com­mu­nity en­gage­ment, de­signed and helped with the process.

In­de­pen­dent fa­cil­i­ta­tors An­nie Bolithio and Chad Foulkes, with econ­o­mist Trevor Koops and coun­cil of­fi­cers over­saw the week­end event.

The coun­cil will make a fi­nal re­port and pro­vide a for­mal re­sponse to the pub­lic as part of the Rat­ing Strat­egy, Bud­get and Coun­cil Plan feed­back pe­riod.

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