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Ratepayers demand a fair-go

Almost 100 people packed into the Coreen Clubrooms last Thursday to discuss concerns about the proposed rate hike.

Frustrated farmers have voiced their concerns over Federation Council’s plans to apply for a Special Rate Variation (SRV) to increase rates by 60 per cent over the next four years.

Almost 100 people attended a public meeting in the Coreen Clubrooms last Thursday to discuss their concerns, travelling from every corner of the shire including Savernake, Morundah, Howlong, Corowa and Mulwala.

While farmers represented nearly 90 per cent of the room, business and residential ratepayers were also present as well as Federation Council Mayor Pat Bourke and councillors David Fahey OAM, Aaron Nicholls, Rowena Black and Federation Council Director Engineering Services Steve Carmichael.

Concerns surrounded the proposed rate rise of 2.5 per cent for 2022/23 which would be followed by a special rate variation of 19 per cent, 17 per cent, 14 per cent and 10 per cent from 2023/24 to 2026/27- subject to IPART (Independent Pricing and Regulatory Tribunal).

But with no plans to increase operating services, residents were left asking why they should pay more with no return on investment.

Local agronomist and chairperson for the meeting Rosie Dye said there needed to be more transparency and accountability from council.

“We are here this evening because our ears have perked up at a 60 per cent general rate rise over the next four years,” she said.

“Last week, 10 farmers stopped work and gathered around a kitchen table to discuss what to do about it. Judging by the turnout, I think we can say that there is a lot more discussion of the options needed before this change can occur.”

Ms Dye went onto explain what the general rate rises would mean for rural ratepayers.

“For a 400-hectare block of farmland near Coreen in 2022, we paid $2,500. Next year, IPART have approved a 2.5 per cent rate rise which means we will pay $2575. If the proposed special rate variations go through, we will pay $3,064 in 2024. The following year we will pay $3,585, $4,087 in 2026 and in 2027 our rate notice will be $4,496,” she said.

“The cumulative four-year rise is a 76 per cent increase. The four-year change is nearly $2,000. Council is hoping these rate rises will maintain the existing services in the predicted absence of grants.”

The biggest topic of discussion was roads. Farmers condemned council for failing to meet the minimum standards in maintenance with complaints about damaged and dangerous roads unable to cope with modern day agricultural needs, school routes and everyday travel needs.

“Are we satisfied with the maintenance we are receiving? Does it meet current user needs and future needs? Is council addressing our needs as road users? Does council support the agricultural industry and rural ratepayers enough?” Ms Dye asked.

Director of Engineering Steve Carmichael clarified to the attendees that rate increases wouldn’t come with the same services.

“That’s totally incorrect,” he said.

“Council is currently spending $8 million on the road network, and we need $12 million to get the roads back to conditions it should be in.

“What we are hoping to do with this special rate variation is get enough money back into the system so that we can start fixing the road network. However, I think the only way we are going to move forward is to work together.”

When asked by local farmer Richard Nixon about whether council was intending to go ahead with the SRV despite residents’ dissatisfaction, Mayor Bourke said that was not the case.

“We are representative of the people. The idea with the workshops is to go out and try and get the best information possible and make an informed decision,” he said.

“The input from this meeting and other meetings will go to council and be discussed. At the moment, council is just not sustainable with the way things are. Council is the closest government to the people, so we serve the people, and we hope to get a good result for everyone that’s within council’s financial capacities.”

Other topics discussed on the night included council services, transparency, operational performance, communication, and accountability for financial and operational performance.

Submissions to council’s draft documents closed Tuesday evening with the matter to be discussed at council’s monthly meeting on June 28.