All-out war over rates
THE fallout from this week's massive Southern Downs Regional Council rates hike has escalated, with the Chamber of Commerce accusing council of using it to deflect the heat of the 9.6 per cent increase.
President David Littleproud yesterday expressed concern at what he said was council's “continual inference the Chamber played a significant role in the creation of this year's budget”, due to its membership of the Rates Advisory Committee.
The committee was made up of business and community representatives to advise on a review of rating categories, with suggestions emerging yesterday that the council had asked Mr Littleproud to chair special business briefings on the budget set down for next week, in order to draw flak away from council.
Mayor Ron Bellingham last night declared no knowledge of such a move and was adamant he would chair the meetings, but Mr Littleproud was likewise insistent the Rates Advisory Group had no hand in driving up rates in the new budget, as a shell-shocked community still comes to terms with the blow-out.
Mr Littleproud said the way the council had attempted to implicate the committee into their media responses “would suggest otherwise”.
“The council has tried to create a perception in the community that both the Warwick and Stanthorpe Chambers of Commerce and the rest of the Rates Advisory Committee group were complicit in this budget outcome which is totally false and misleading,” he said.
“I am concerned that the council pre-meditated the use of this committee to deflect political fallout from their budget.
“The fact is council did not even give the Rates Advisory Committee a briefing on the budget before its announcement, which shows how much it thought of the group.
“It would seem it was more important that council brief the media before its own advisory group or the business community.”
Mr Littleproud, who is widely tipped to be planning a tilt at the mayoralty at the council election due next March, also foreshadowed a possible review of the Warwick Chamber of Commerce's future involvement in the Rates Advisory Committee.
“We simply feel the process has been misused, but we will discuss this as a Chamber and make a call in the coming weeks,” Mr Littleproud said.
It is understood the Chamber will meet on Monday, ahead of a business budget briefing in Warwick Wednesday night and a similar one in Stanthorpe on Thursday.
Cr Bellingham last night was at pains to make it clear the Chamber of Commerce had not been involved in the “budget financial detail” and that next week's business briefings were a “council initiative”.
“I'm not sure where the perception has come from that there has been a political agenda on our part and I thank all the members of the Rates Advisory Committee for their input,” the mayor said.
“I was asked (yesterday) who was going to chair those business meetings and I replied that I would do it myself.”
Meanwhile, Killarney farming identity Rodney Petersen, also a member of the Rates Advisory Committee, yesterday weighed into the debate over a 60 per cent rise in rates in the Warwick CBD by saying it was time property owners there were “welcomed into the real world”.
“The rates impact on large-scale farm operators has been huge in recent years – we copped a $6000 rise last budget and our annual rates bill is $25,000 for a three-year person business,” Mr Petersen said.
“There are also a large number of other fair dinkum producers – rather than hobby farmers – who are paying anywhere between $10,000 and $25,000.
“I just think it's time for a bit of balance and it's fair to say property in the Warwick CBD has been under-rated for some time.”
Cr Bellingham responded to Mr Petersen's comments by saying the Killarney farmer was “responsible for a fair swag of property”, but denied he felt large-scale farmers were crying poor.
“It's not about what's in it for one particular group but what is best for the greater community,” Cr Bellingham said.
Warwick business budget forum: Wednesday July 20, Town Hall, 5.30pm
Stanthorpe business budget forum: Thursday July 21, Civic Centre, 5.30pm
(Both forums are open to the public)