Protestors hit Stanthorpe
SOUTHERN Downs Regional councillors were faced with an angry 100-strong crowd in Stanthorpe yesterday evening protesting recent rate rises.
Deputy Mayor Peter Blundell was jeered and abused by the crowd as he stood quietly listening to their rally.
Councillors Mally McMurtrie, Jo McNally, Vic Pennisi, Denise Ingram and Cameron Gow also had to run the gauntlet as they entered Stanthorpe Civic Centre for a meeting with the Stanthorpe Chamber of Commerce on our new rating system.
Only Mayor Ron Bellingham was absent from the council contingent, which also included Crs Ross Bartley and Neil Meiklejohn.
The protest ringleader was Stanthorpe businessman Shane Williams, who has been handing out petitions and calling on our elected officials to resign.
At the rally he spoke of the new differential rating system council implemented, saying “If this crap is council's first attempt at doing this, they don't deserve to be there”.
Cries of “don't pay your rates” and “stand as one” were heard from the throng, which included a number of Warwick faces.
Stanthorpe resident George Switala said his rates had shot up and he was there to call for a new council to be appointed.
“There are people in the region that can do a better job,” he said.
Police supervised but were not called into action although they did guard the doors to the Chamber meeting, which started at 5.30pm.
Last night's protest was deliberately arranged to coincide with the Chamber of Commerce meeting.
Chamber president Norman Crisp was keen to stress the two events were separate despite attempts by protestors to force their way into the Chamber meeting.
The crowd dispersed after it was refused entry.
“Basically we have asked council to come and explain a couple of issues to us,” Mr Crisp said.
“Firstly we feel there should be more industrial and commercial categories as we don't think it's fair that a business located on the main street pays the same as one outside town.
“We are also concerned that commercial and industrial rates in Stanthorpe are set at 1.88 cents in the dollar whilst at Warwick they are 0.77.”
He said they accepted most of the businesses on Stanthorpe's main street saw a decrease in rates while Warwick's shot up, but that the system was not equitable.
Horse and Jockey in Warwick owner Gary Lawrence said yesterday his rates had significantly shot up and it was a concern.
“Especially when prices of electricity are scheduled to increase and I have to pay a huge amount for an industrial bin service,” Mr Lawrence said.
“It makes it hard for business to survive.
“At the same time, while no one likes to see increases I'm not sure overthrowing the council is the way to go.”
Another public meeting is planned in a week's time in Stanthorpe where councillors will be invited to answer questions directly.