Mayor Ron Bellingham has unveiled a model for differential rating to bring the region into line with more than 90 per cent of other Queensland councils.
Mayor Ron Bellingham has unveiled a model for differential rating to bring the region into line with more than 90 per cent of other Queensland councils.

Mayor reveals rating reforms

LANDHOLDINGS across the Southern Downs will be split into almost a dozen categories by the council in the biggest shake-up of the region’s rates system in decades, the Daily News can reveal.

Mayor Ron Bellingham yesterday unveiled the model for differential rating – which will replace the current flat rate in the dollar method levied on all properties – to bring the region into line with more than 90 per cent of other Queensland councils.

Cr Bellingham stopped short of announcing specific rates in the dollar for each of the 11 proposed categories as budget deliberations were still taking place behind closed doors.

But he revealed privately-owned land would be split into Residential Urban and Residential Rural, Commercial/Industrial, Shopping Centres, Noxious and Hazardous Industry, Extractive Industry, Horticulture, Other Farming, Special Uses and Private Forestry, with a miscellaneous ‘Other’ for reservoirs and other public assets.

Differential rating has been touted in the past as a way to give councils more flexibility in how they charge rates, which will continue to be based on “unimproved” land valuations calculated by the State Government.

The mayor yesterday was at pains to point out the new system was not about targeting those with the greatest capacity to pay.

“In actual fact, we have no idea of people’s ability to pay rates,” Cr Bellingham said.

“That may be the State Government’s spiel but it is not our approach.

“But for example businesses can of course claim rates as a tax deduction and we have taken that into consideration.”

The mayor last week foreshadowed a massive rise in rates thanks to a “hellish” budget process this year, which he blamed on State Government funding cuts.

Final rates in the dollar for the new land categories are expected to be made public on July 7 when the budget is put to the vote at an open session of council.

But with tension between councillors from the former Warwick and Stanthorpe council areas understood to be at an all-time high behind closed doors, the vote may be far from a rubber stamp.

Under the new model, all agricultural land other than orchards and vineyards will be lumped together in the ‘Other Farming’ category.

This is despite earlier suggestions of splitting up grazing and cropping land and intensive animal industries such as feedlots into separate categories.

CR Bellingham yesterday played down the isolating of orchards and vineyards – the mainstay of Stanthorpe’s agricultural sector – alone into the new ‘Horticulture’ category, saying this was not about granting concessions to Stanthorpe-based councillors who make up half the numbers on council.

“This was a flow-on from the former Stanthorpe (differential) rating system which was needed to make the new model work,” the mayor said.

“At the end of the day we had to limit the number of categories for practical administrative purposes.”

The new system also splits rural land into farming and residential lifestyle categories, a recognition of the influx of “tree-changers” into traditional farming districts.

Cr Bellingham would not be drawn on suggestions rural residential owners might be charged a higher rate in the dollar than farmers.

He said more hammering out of rates in the dollar would happen at a closed council meeting on June 30 before the open budget adoption meeting on July 7.

“I think we have reasonable consensus on what we will charge each category but things could always change,” Cr Bellingham said.

“We have certainly given everyone on council the opportunity to have their say.”

The council budgeted for revenue of $56.5 million in the current financial year’s budget.

Long-time differential rating campaigner Laurie Dagg, who is the chairman of the Condamine Landholders’ Group, told the Daily News yesterday he was happy council had finally decided to implement a new system.

“It’s high time they did do that because gee, the majority of the councils in Queensland have been using differential rating for 10 years or more and Warwick was dragging its feet,” Mr Dagg said.

“We’ve been campaigning for the last 10 years. We knew it would happen because of the massive differences in valuation in the land categories – we had no other way to go than differential rating.”

Mr Dagg said the campaign hit its peak in 2004 when 38 landholders around The Falls and The Head were slapped with land valuation rises of more than 400 per cent and subsequent three-fold rates rises.

“We had the feeling that once amalgamation happened, council would have no choice (but to go to differential rating),” he said.

Warwick Chamber of Commerce president John Randall recognised council had a very hard task in delivering a new rating policy across the region.

“It’s certainly not going to be a situation of one-size fits all,” Mr Randall said.

“The Chamber hasn’t received a full briefing as yet on the exact direction of council’s new rating system, nor the upcoming 2010-11 budget, so it would be premature to give a definite opinion at this time.

“However, from a business perspective, the Chamber would be looking for fairness in the rating treatment of the new non-residential categories.”

Mr Randall said it was the land in the non-residential categories which was generally of a much higher value than residential land.

“It would be seen as double-dipping if council were to be able to raise higher revenue because of the increased higher valuations and then compound this by charging a higher rate in the dollar for non-residential categories.

“The Chamber represents the businesses in this district that provide the bulk of the jobs for this community so we are hopeful that the council will factor this in to their rating deliberations.”

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