Rates fine-tuning 'inevitable'
FORMER Stanthorpe mayor Glen Rogers has predicted “fine-tuning” will be needed when a new rating system is introduced for the Southern Downs council region in the new financial year.
Mr Rogers said yesterday the process of categorising individual landholdings as part of the new differential rating method would be a massive task for council officers and that getting it right would be crucial.
As reported last week, private property across the Southern Downs will be split into almost a dozen categories by the council in the biggest shake-up of Warwick’s rates system in decades.
The model will replace the current flat rate in the dollar system used in the former Warwick Shire area to bring it into line with more than 90 per cent of Queensland councils, with State Government “unimproved” land valuations still used as the basis for calculating actual rates.
The former Stanthorpe Shire introduced differential rating in the mid-1990s and its nine categories have continued to apply since amalgamation in 2008.
Mayor Ron Bellingham announced on Friday the 11 proposed new categories to replace both former shires’ rates systems but the detail of how many cents in the dollar will be paid by landowners is still being hammered out in closed-door deliberations in the lead-up to the council budget on July 7.
Mr Rogers jokingly suggested yesterday the reform would bring Warwick into line with Stanthorpe, let alone the rest of the state.
“We had a good system and the vast majority were happy with it,” he said.
“The critical thing will be to ensure everyone is in the right category and inevitably there will be some errors.
“I would imagine there will be some fine-tuning needed in the first year or two as there is with any new way of doing things.
“The other challenge is going to be working out how to apportion the percentage of total rates for each category.
“Obviously it is unclear who is going to pay what at this stage but, when the new rates notices go out and someone finds they are in the wrong category and their rates have gone from $400 to $1200, it will be on.”
Before amalgamation Stanthorpe Shire’s highest rate in the dollar at 7.4 cents was paid by owners of CBD business premises, with the lowest, at 1.74, paid by rural residential owners.
Mr Rogers – himself a vegetable grower at The Summit – said he was concerned about the plan by the Southern Downs Regional Council to include only orchards and vineyards in a new “Horticulture” category, with all other agricultural land, including vegetable growing, lumped in an “Other Farming” category.
“It seems odd that veggie growing will be in the same category as feedlots and other intensive livestock industries, for example,” he said.
“I’m not sure what the thinking is there, other than to say that orchards and vineyards have much higher unimproved land valuations than other agricultural land.
“In the old Stanthorpe Shire we didn’t separate out orchards and vineyards but we did draw a distinction between small horticultural properties and 5000-acre grazing properties.
“There probably should be more of a reflection of the diversity of agriculture across the Southern Downs in the new system – the number of categories doesn’t really matter, you can have 20 if that’s what you need to recognise the diversity.”
Cr Bellingham would not be drawn last week on whether or not the separate treatment of orchards and vineyards foreshadowed concessions for those landowners secured by the four serving Stanthorpe-based councillors.
Privately-owned land across the Southern Downs council area is set to be split into the categories of 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 is seen as a way of giving councils more flexibility when it comes to charging rates, with Cr Bellingham adamant the new system was not about targeting those with the greatest capacity to pay.
The mayor has previously foreshadowed a massive rates rise across the board in the new budget, which he is blaming on cuts in state funding to regional councils.
$$ and cents
The former Stanthorpe Shire introduced differential rating in the mid-1990s. Below are the categories, which have still applied in Stanthorpe since amalgamation but will be replaced when the new region-wide categories take effect in the new financial year. Also shown is cents in the dollar (based on State ‘unimproved’ land valuations) paid by ratepayers...
- Stanthorpe Urban – 1.7960 (cents/$)
- Rural 1 (small-holdings) – 4.4974
- Rural 2 (broadacre grazing) – 4.9393
- Rural Residential – 1.7473
- Villages – 2.5020
- Business 1(CBD Stanthorpe) – 7.4832
- Business 2 (rest of Stanthorpe) – 3.6566
- Private Forestry – 1.7473
- Business III (Rural) – 3.3223