Council's Draft Operational Plan and Delivery Program - which includes the coming year's rating model - was passed at an extraordinary meeting on Tuesday, albeit with two abstaining from voting and with lengthy discussion on land category valuation disparities.
Timing of the meeting
The extraordinary meeting was scheduled in order for Councillors to vote on the 2020/21 Operational Plan and 2017/21 Delivery Program - which outlines Council's budget for the next financial year and must be endorsed before which.
Following amended valuations received from the NSW Valuer General, the document needed to placed back on public exhibition for a period ending last week. With an extraordinary meeting required to get Council to vote on it in time.
However, Cr Russell Holden and Cr Alex Karavas abstained from voting, citing the shortage of time to scrutinise the document.
"I stand here today extremely conflicted. And I'm conflicted because we've got this and we've done a lot of work on it, but I can't tell you what's in it because I haven't had the opportunity to read it," Cr Holden said.
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"And I do wholeheartedly agree with Cr Shelley that we have to adopt a budget. But I cannot in good conscience support this document, because I haven't been given adequate time or the right amount of opportunity for me to make an informed decision."
Mayor Cr Des Kennedy pointed out that the only new additions related to the latest 28-day submission period.
Cr Peter Shelley added, "we all know as Councillors that when we put our hand up to do this job, there's going to be some things that are out of our control - such as the timing of this meeting".
"With the valuations and everything else, sometimes you don't get the business papers three days beforehand. I certainly don't blames staff, I certainly blame the circumstances and I can understand the frustration," he said.
"But to not vote, to abstain, is effectively a 'no' vote and I think that's not what we're elected to do - and I think it's a cop-out. I think we should get this budget through, please support the motion, do the jobs we're elected to do and let's get on with it."
The budget provides for a rates model based on a 2.6 per cent increase distributed across all rating categories - Farmland, Residential, Business, and Mining. In line with the rate cap determined by the NSW Independent Pricing and Regulatory Tribunal (IPART).
Cr Esme Martens moved an amendment that they adopt a model with with a zero per cent increase for the farmland category.
And said that the category - responsible for over 16 per cent of rating revenue - was "hit the hardest" by the new valuations. Which was also on top of losses through several years of drought and the last bushfire period.
"The business people, sure, their revenue has gone down over the past few months with the Coronavirus - but this Council very wisely made a contribution towards businesses, by allowing people that qualify with Job Keeper to apply for a $1,000 grant," she said.
"[But] there are many farmers within our Shire who have suffered three years of drought, bushfires, and there are something like 16 ratepayers in the Running Stream/Olinda area that had houses burnt down. And there are many farmers who've had many kilometres of fencing destroyed."
The amendment - which if successful would've likely required another public exhibition period - was lost.
'Elephant in the room'
Cr Kennedy pointed to a submission from the NSW Minerals Council, which stated that with MWRC choosing to adopt changes for valuation of land the mining category the sector now represents 40 per cent of rating revenue.
"I think that the elephant in the room is not farmland or business parks or a few fees at the airport. The mining rate has increased pretty substantially in the last few years, from $2.2 million to $12 million, they are very unhappy with this naturally," he said.
"So if anyone was to come in and have your spiel, I thought it would be the coal mines rather than the farmers wanting $100 off their rates."