Former councillor unleashes on rural rates decision
LETTER TO THE EDITOR: WHEN the South Burnett Regional Council brought down its budget last week, a very telling comment was made by one of the councillors regarding the financial status of farmers in the region.
Cr Terry Fleischfresser said in a debate on whether rural rate increases should be frozen that the idea is a "reverse Robin Hood" situation. That is, according to him, freezing the increase on rural rates would 'be taking from the poor and giving to the rich' with farmers being the 'rich'. The motion was lost 5-2.
The motion moved by Cr Ros Heit made a lot of sense given rural rates last year increased in some cases by 30 per cent, resulting in thousands of dollars increase in rates.
It was said this was because rural ratepayers were a 'burden' to council as they lived where a predominant number of dirt roads are and therefore need to shoulder more of the financial share for grading roads than urban ratepayers.
Of course, no consideration was given to rural ratepayers who live on sealed roads or main roads and see no more benefit than urban ratepayers.
The idea to freeze rural rate increases has merit given the enormity of these increases last year. Another option available to council was to implement banding for rural rates, as the Mayor knows, was done from 2008 to moderate sharp increases in rates for residents in some former Shires.
This was to comply with the then new Local Government Act's requirement for equity across all rating categories after the first four years post amalgamation. Neither option was been adopted for this year.
With a projected deficit this year because of a revaluation of the road network (brought on by council itself) and an increase below CPI before an election, a welder's dog can see that once the election is out of the way rural ratepayers will be getting it in the neck again. After all, according to Cr Fleischfresser farmers are geese that will just keep laying golden eggs for council.
The road levy was unpopular, no question. However it was brought in when the Grants Commission cut funding to the SBRC by $900,000 in one year - a financial crisis that needed a response. The levy was never indexed, deliberately designed to be equal across all rating categories and in line with numerous other councils across the state.
Moving the road levy into the general rates (it has not gone, just hidden before an election) so it can now be indexed every year, and increasing rural rates on many farmers to between 14 per cent and 30 per cent in some cases says to me council agrees with Cr Fleischfresser.
The 'top end of town' awaits a response.
Damien Tessmann, Coolabunia
Former South Burnett councillor