Ararat Rural City Council’s 2018-19 draft budget has provoked a range of community responses, with some labeling it ’common sense’ and others ‘a recipe for disaster’.
Councillors will meet on Tuesday night to both elect a new mayor and deputy mayor, and to receive all submissions on the Draft Rating Strategy and Draft Budget.
Councillors will also hear any public depositions on the budget.
The council has published written submissions concerning the draft budget on its website.
Ararat resident and Ballyrogan farmer Peter Oddie accused the council of having displayed a “lack of due diligence and good governance” in previous budget debates, but stated the draft budget was “pleasing”.
“It is pleasing to see the current council adopt the thoughts of the community and adopt the draft rating strategy with the 55 per cent differential and a no rate increase,” he stated.
Mr Oddie also stated the council “had a long way to go to convince us all that the rates we all pay are at the lowest level possible” and needed to display better performance in road maintenance, managing waste collection and reducing wage costs.
Lake Bolac resident Colin McKenzie stated the council’s increased revenue needs and community demand for services was a “recipe for disaster” and the budget “fails any fairness test”.
“The revenue required by council will be supplied by many of the population who cannot or will not live in urban Ararat; while the population of Ararat keep request more and more lifestyle facilities,” he stated.
A number of farmers from Willaura and Tatyoon also made written submissions arguing against any increase in rates or removal of rates discounts for agricultural land.
Wickliffle’s David Hucker stated that Ararat Rural City Council’s cents per capital improved value dollar was high compared with other councils in western and south west Victoria.
“Ararat is still the second worst council in Victoria for farm rates,” he stated.
Ararat’s David Hopkirk submitted that Ararat Rural City Council should look to a more uniform rates strategy that reduced discounts for farmers and boosted rebates for pensioners.
”It is pointless having a great train service, jobs to offer, and hope people don’t notice the effects of a crippling rating scheme,” he stated.
“All towns doing particularly well at the moment have uniform or something a lot closer to uniform rating, eg. Port Fairy, Hamilton, Horsham.
“No small town will grow (while) subsidising wealth ratepayers.”
Warrak winemaker Jane Goninon submitted that the council had ignored a recommendation from a citizens’ rates strategy jury to structure the differential rates to distribute the biggest discounts to farmers who were likely to be financially worse off.
“It is clear that council have utilised some of the principles for the recommendations made by the Ratings Strategy Advisory Group and the Citizens’ Jury but only so far as they believe it will meet the needs of Council, not the needs of the community as directed by the Minister’s Commission of Inquiry,” she stated,
Dobie farmer Charlie de Fegley submitted that the council should put a cap on the amount of rates collected from each of the main property types to end the ‘who-pays-what’ debate.
“Our council has been identified along with many other regional councils as not being sustainable in the long term,” he stated.
“If the energy that has been expended to determine ‘who pays what’ was put to driving the long-term viability of the Ararat Rural Council we would be in a better place.”
At a special council meeting in May, councillors voted 5-1 in favour of adding a clause which said the city would not raise rates for the next financial year.
But the document projects council will be operating on a overall deficit of $2.53 million for the year.
The document outlined $6.33 million in capital works, with $3.73 million for roads, including reconstructions, resealing and bridge improvements.
Council will consider the proposed Rating Strategy, the proposed Budget and the submissions received at the Ordinary Council Meeting to be held on June 26.