I feel the need to respond to Lynn’s Atkinson’s letter.
I am a strong advocate of council engaging people in collaborative consultative processes and I commend all of the community members of the committee and the hard work that was undertaken.
I do believe, however, that there are a number of misunderstandings contained, which do not give a fair reflection on events.
Lynn and the others on the rates strategy steering committee did indeed work extremely hard and did come up with a rating strategy that was quite different to the previous rating strategy.
The committee produced a report, which contained 19 individual recommendations all of which were approved of by the council, when it was brought to council for the final decision to be determined.
Council was more than happy with the report and its outcomes.
The first issue of misunderstanding was within the following statement from Lynn; “in the name of good governance, to halt the passage of the motion to amend the strategy, after it had been approved and adopted by council and because of the arguably spurious basis for the amendment”.
The first thing discussed at the rating strategy committee was the nature of a special meeting of council and its absolute need for confidentiality.
The governance of such committees are all governed by the local government act and the committee needed to be aware of the legal framework around which the committee had to operate.
The second thing discussed was that the committee, under its terms of reference were to identify and document recommendations, which would then be put to council in a report.
It was made clear at that time that the council could determine to accept all recommendations, accept some of them, accept none of them, or even make amendments to them because the council is the place at which resolutions of the council are legally made.
All committees of council have to submit to the good governance that is required under the Local Government Act to have all decisions made by council at a meeting of council.
Even councillor committee meetings have to produce reports for the council to have the final decision made. That is how it is done.
So why did the council make this one small change now? That was because a ratepayer made a submission through the section 223 process, as part of the annual budget governance procedures.
The council is obliged to consider seriously all such proposals put forward in the s223 process. That also is explained in the Local Government Act. It must be done. It is far from a spurious basis for change.
Upon investigation of this submission it was determined by a number of councillors that one or more of the 19 recommendations accepted by the rating committee was not enacted according to the recommendation.
The strategy that stated that the farm rate should only apply to genuine farming properties meant that over 600 previously farm rated properties were reclassified as residential. The strategy did not intend to remove legitimate farmers from the farm rate category.
The recommendation finally voted through by council allows those properties between 18.3ha and 20ha that are engaged in primary production to be classified back as farm rate, as they were two years ago.
Of the 44 properties between 18.3ha and 20ha, many would not be conducting primary production, so they would remain on the residential rate. Those that are engaged in primary production would be reclassified back to the farm differential rate.
This is exactly where the rating committee intended them to be.
The determination to use 20ha rather than any other figure was not based on any evidence that all properties under 20ha were not farming properties and so the council decided to amend that figure, as a short term measure to enable an error to be redressed.
The difficulty for council in enacting the intention of the committee created an anomaly, where an arbitrary figure of 20 hectares was used not based on whether people were genuine farmers.
Since the amendment was passed, councillors have determined that the identification of appropriate properties as farm properties needs further work and so when the rating strategy is next reviewed in 2017 this will be one point for the next committee to investigate.
Lynn’s last paragraph mentions future advisory forums. Exactly, the special committee was an advisory forum. Council may amend a strategy as such by open debate and a vote. That is not council flouting its own strategy.
The legal advice did say that properties between 18.3ha and 20ha, if they were not residential and were conducting primary production, should be given another category code appropriate to a farming category. This is what occurred.
In conclusion, the motion that was passed by council was clearly consistent with the intentions of the rating committee; that is that all genuine farmers should be able to claim farm rates.
Cr Andrew McEwen, South Gippsland Shire Council.