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