August 8, 2018
All South Burnett ratepayers have been given a six-week extension in the discount period for their latest rates notice after agitation by a recently formed ratepayers’ group.
At a Special Meeting of the South Burnett Regional Council held on Wednesday morning, councillors voted unanimously to extend the discount period for the latest half-yearly rates notice from September 26 to November 7.
Durong resident Lorna Wieland, the honorary secretary of the newly formed South Burnett Residents and Ratepayers Group, made an impassioned plea to councillors at the start of the meeting for consideration of the rural sector, which she said had been hit with rate rises of up to 20 per cent.
The new ratepayers group was formed after two meetings at Durong Hall last month organised by local residents alarmed at rate rises incorporated in Council’s 2018-19 Budget.
The second meeting was attended by key Council staff and most councillors.
The large increases which have angered many farmers have been caused by the incorporation of the former road levy into general rates. This move has amplified rates paid on properties – especially farms – which have larger unimproved valuations.
“I am hoping to hear today there is some meaningful expansion of time, and not some paltry extension,” Mrs Wieland told Wednesday’s Council meeting.
The recommendation put to the meeting by Council staff included the comment the extension of the discount time was “not expected to have a significant impact on Council cash flows for the first half of this financial year”.
Councillors were told the extension had been considered “due to feedback given on the changes to the general rate, and the consideration of drought impacts within the Council area”.
The motion to extend the discount period was moved by Deputy Mayor Kathy Duff and seconded by Cr Danita Potter.
Cr Duff and Cr Ros Heit spoke in favour.
The Deputy Mayor said it was an opportunity to help rural people, but because of the legislation the discount would also be extended to all ratepayers.
“I’m pleased we can offer this extension,” Cr Duff said. “I hear what Lorna has to say and I 100 per cent concur with her.
“I am really pleased that we have listened, gone out there to Durong and listened to the rural ratepayers.
“They are hurting. We are drought-declared and it is a tough time. I 100 per cent agree that we need to be sympathetic.”
Cr Heit agreed, saying Council needed to do all it could to help rural ratepayers during this time.
Mayor Keith Campbell said the issue was a situation of valuations ie, the higher the valuation, the higher the rating level.
He said payments by instalments were available to all ratepayers, and “literally hundreds” of South Burnett ratepayers were now doing this.
However, Council has confirmed that the 10 per cent discount does not apply to rates paid on instalment.
Mayor Campbell said there were also hardship provisions in the Local Government Act.
Cr Terry Fleischfresser, who wasn’t at the Durong meeting, said Council had not made the decision to roll the road levy into the general rate lightly.
“There was an enormous amount of investigation we took into it before we even considered the rising of rates,” he said.
“Council will always be between a rock and a hard place in regards to handling the public purse, and rightly so. And I accept that responsibility.
“It’s sometimes really hard for Council to know which way the public wants us to go.
“Having said that, the Councillors’ role is to be financially sustainable into the future. This is a purely business decision.”
He said it would “be negligent and irresponsible” not to go ahead with the changes to the rates.
“I was listening with interest the night before last, the Prime Minister of Australia who was visiting the western districts of NSW – and yes, there are a lot of people in tough times – but as he did say, drought is not a new thing,” Cr Fleischfresser said.
“It is a thing that has been going on since time immemorial.
“So it’s about managing business.
“I don’t like putting up the rates. I personally pay five lots of rates so I don’t like putting up the rates but as financially responsible councillors that’s what we have to do.”
He said he was pleased with the motion as it showed Council had “heart” for people who had genuine hardship, but the rates rise was a “business decision, a financial decision”.
Speaking after the Council meeting, Lorna Wieland and fellow Durong resident Pam Reddan were grateful for the extension in the discount period but were disgusted that it had only come about after residents stood up and asked for it at the Durong meeting.
Mrs Wieland said there had been no prior warning of the rates rise, and the “collective brain” of Council had not kicked in to suggest some relief for the residents who would be most affected by the changes, that it had taken “a farmer’s wife” to suggest the proposal.
“I find it disturbing that all these people could not come up with a solution,” she said.
Both women emphasised the core of the issue was not the drought, but the fact Council had “picked on” a minority group.
Mrs Wieland said Mayor Campbell had said at the Durong meeting that “we are all in this together”.
“If we are all in this together, why has the conservative minority – who usually don’t speak out – had a rate rise of 20 per cent, and the majority 2.5 per cent?” she said.
“The minority will be hit significantly and the majority may not even feel it.
“They picked on the farmers because the farmer doesn’t have a voice.”
Mrs Reddan agreed.
“It’s not about the drought. It’s about the extra burden that we now have to carry,” she said.
“They want young people to come on to the land, but why would they with exorbitant rates?”
Mrs Wieland said Council had not shown any compassion to farmers, and councillors had not stood up for ratepayers – some of whom would now be paying $32,000 a year in rates.
“This is a weak Council. The councillors are weak,” she said.
She said the new ratepayers’ group would question “mismanagement of money” in Council.
Mrs Wieland pointed to the Kingaroy revitalisation project as an example.
“To us, as struggling farmers, working hard, it is obvious to us (it is wrong) to borrow $2 million and have it ticking away in interest,” she said.
She said that while rural people were tightening their belts even more, the focus should not be about “prettying up the towns”.
The pair said they didn’t want to be in the public spotlight “but what they are doing is wrong, that’s why we are complaining”.
“We’re not going to let this drop. We are going to continue on,” Mrs Wieland said.