No jus­ti­fi­ca­tion

The Weekly Advertiser Horsham - - News -

SIR, – We are mem­bers of the group who were priv­i­leged to re­cently serve on Ararat Ru­ral City Coun­cil’s Cit­i­zen’s Jury that con­sid­ered rec­om­men­da­tions of the Rat­ing Strat­egy Ad­vi­sory Group, RSAG, on which rat­ing op­tion was fair and eq­ui­table for the com­mu­nity.

In the brief­ing pro­vided to us, as a pre­cur­sor to two days of de­lib­er­a­tions, we were di­rected to form our views based on a con­sid­er­a­tion of four ba­sic prin­ci­ples – eq­uity, ben­e­fit, wealth and abil­ity to pay.

The Cit­i­zen’s Jury, af­ter much de­lib­er­at­ing on the ap­pli­ca­tion of these prin­ci­ples, ul­ti­mately reached a unan­i­mous po­si­tion of rec­om­mend­ing:

• Coun­cil must re­duce its over­all ex­pen­di­ture in or­der to re­duce the over­all rate bur­den on the com­mu­nity – also the unan­i­mous view of RSAG.

• The re­duc­tion of the rate bur­den on com­mer­cial-in­dus­trial prop­er­ties to en­cour­age new and sus­tain­able busi­nesses in Ararat – also the unan­i­mous view of RSAG.

• Farm clas­si­fi­ca­tion only be avail­able to en­ter­prises that pro­vide doc­u­men­ta­tion con­firm­ing their sta­tus as a farm en­ter­prise – also the unan­i­mous view of RSAG.

• The mu­nic­i­pal charge be set at 10 per­cent to en­sure coun­cil ad­min­is­tra­tion costs to pro­vide ser­vices for all, be shared eq­ui­tably across the com­mu­nity – also the unan­i­mous view of RSAG.

• A pen­sioner re­bate be avail­able to off­set the mu­nic­i­pal charge – dif­fer­ent to RSAG.

• Go­ing for­ward, that per­cent­age con­tri­bu­tions of the to­tal rate bur­den be main­tained per prop­erty clas­si­fi­ca­tion – this is con­sis­tent with the pre­ferred rec­om­men­da­tion of RSAG.

Hav­ing now re­viewed coun­cil’s draft bud­get we wel­come coun­cil’s de­ci­sions to adopt our rec­om­men­da­tions two and three.

How­ever, coun­cil’s draft strat­egy has com­pletely dis­re­garded the unan­i­mous view of the jury re­gard­ing rec­om­men­da­tions one, four, five and six.

The draft rat­ing strat­egy is clearly at odds with the view ex­pressed by RASG and the unan­i­mous view of the jury.

No jus­ti­fi­ca­tion has been pro­vided for the shift in rat­ing bur­den other than a su­per­fi­cial and ques­tion­able con­sid­er­a­tion of ‘wealth and abil­ity to pay’.

The other prin­ci­ples of ben­e­fit and eq­uity ap­pear to have been put aside.

‘Av­er­age’ fig­ures for 2018-19 rate li­a­bil­ity pro­vided in coun­cil’s draft strat­egy doc­u­ment clearly il­lus­trate this shift: Gen­eral – res­i­den­tial – rates and mu­nic­i­pal charge, $1394, a 5.3 per­cent de­crease com­pared with farm rates and mu­nic­i­pal charge, $3595, a 16.4 per­cent in­crease.

In jus­ti­fy­ing re­jec­tion of the jury’s pre­ferred ap­proach, min­is­te­rial guide­lines have been cited, sug­gest­ing that re­bates or de­ferred pay­ments are pre­ferred in­stru­ments over changes to rat­ing dif­fer­en­tials to deal with rat­ing vo­latil­ity flow­ing from large move­ments in valu­a­tions.

It is ironic the draft strat­egy has over­looked the in­ferred di­rec­tion to avoid rat­ing vo­latil­ity and has in fact in­tro­duced it by main­tain­ing the pre­vi­ous rat­ing dif­fer­en­tial on farm­land.

Mem­bers of the jury com­prised a wide rep­re­sen­ta­tion of the com­mu­nity with all par­tic­i­pants en­er­get­i­cally em­brac­ing the con­cept of par­tic­i­pa­tion.

Vested in­ter­ests, while al­ways present, were re­spect­fully dealt with, with all mem­bers of the jury striv­ing for an out­come that was seen as be­ing in the best in­ter­ests of the whole com­mu­nity.

The cur­rent draft strat­egy to­tally dis­re­gards the unan­i­mous view reached by the jury that sought main­te­nance of the sta­tus quo, in terms of the over­all rate obli­ga­tions of farm­ing and res­i­den­tial prop­er­ties. If coun­cil main­tains this po­si­tion it must pro­vide a more cred­i­ble jus­ti­fi­ca­tion.

Signed Cit­i­zen’s Jury mem­bers – Bob Milne, Anna Gray, Anna Lidger­wood, An­drew By­ron, Bruce Mckay, Noel Barr, Rob Arm­strong, Rick West­garth, An­thony Brady, Scott Nor­man, Tony O’brien, Dar­ren Jer­ram

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