Council seeks rates advisers
Horsham Rural City Council has called for expressions of interest for a new rates strategy advisory committee following extensive community concern about an ‘unfair and inequitable’ system.
Councillors have been divided over the 2018-19 budget and rating strategy, which includes an average 11.8 percent rate increase for the farm sector and a 0.6 percent decrease for the residential sector.
Two councillors fought to reduce the rural sector’s farm-rate burden, with several farmers reporting rate increases of between 30 and 60 percent based on early valuation estimates.
Councillors engaged in at-times heated debates throughout the budget process before adopting the documents as presented.
Mayor Pam Clarke said in June that ‘to be asked to significantly change our rating system and budget after the consultation process has been completed is just not possible or appropriate’.
“Council has committed to do a full rate review prior to the next budget and assess the implications any shift in our rating strategy will have on each sector of our community,” she said.
At a meeting on Monday night, councillors voted to proceed with a Rates Strategy Review Project, to be completed ahead of the council’s 2019-20 budget.
Residents can apply for a position on a nine-person committee that will work alongside an independent consultant.
The committee will play a key role in shaping the way rates are calculated.
Council chief executive Sunil Bhalla said the review was in response to strong opinion expressed from the farming sector after the 2018-19 rates strategy consultation period had closed.
“Council voted not to make any significant adjustments to the rates strategy until sufficient consultation had been conducted with all sectors of the community,” he said.
“It would have been unfair to impose rate rises on the residential, commercial and industrial sectors without consulting with them.
“Instead, council resolved to have a detailed and independent review undertaken where everyone can share their opinion.
“A key outcome is to achieve a fair and equitable distribution of the rate burden across all sectors of the community.”
Mr Bhalla said he hoped the review would help clarify details in the current rate strategy.
“Some people don’t understand that it’s a closed system, so if you want someone to pay less, someone else has to pay more in order to maintain council services each year,” he said.
“Issues of fairness and equity
“Some people do not understand that it’s a closed system, so if you want someone to pay less, someone else has to pay more in order to maintain council services each year ” – Sunil Bhalla
are judgmental in nature, complex and subjective.
“The matter is not simple or black and white and consideration needs to be given to the relative questions of what is fair and what is not.
“Fairness will differ depending upon an individual’s view on matters.
“It’s about hearing what people have to say.”
Mr Bhalla encouraged people from all sectors of the community to apply for the advisory committee.
“A diverse committee will be sought that provides both gender equity and ages representative of the general adult population,” he said.
“The committee will, as far as is practical, be composed of representatives proportionate to the share of rates paid by each sector.”
Mr Bhalla said the committee would meet between four and six times from October 1, 2018 to December 7, 2018.
Expressions of interest close at 5pm on September 10 and can be completed online at hrcc.vic.gov.au or in person at Horsham Civic Centre in Roberts Avenue.