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    Horsham Rural City Council councillor Robyn Gulline.

Rates shuffle in Horsham Rural City budget proposals

Horsham mayor Robyn Gulline has described Horsham Rural City Council endorsement of a proposed 2021-2022 budget as ‘financially fair and equitable’.

She said the draft, open for community feedback until June 7, reflected efforts to meet the ‘ever-present challenge’ of achieving an urban-rural balance.

The draft shows that Horsham ratepayers overall face a 1.5 percent rate rise as per a ministerial cap, a farm-differential or discount rates reduction of 67 percent of property value to 59 percent and a reduction of a municipal charge from $274 to $240.

Under the draft proposal farm rates will drop eight percent, residential rates rise 3.01 percent, commercial rates fall by 4.33 percent and industrial rates increase by 0.18 percent.

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The draft budget also includes a 27 percent, or $1.56-million, increase in spending on rural roads and infrastructure and $20.3-million in capital works, which include upgrades to Horsham Caravan Park, the construction of accessible change rooms at Horsham Aquatic Centre and the refurbishment of Horsham Town Hall’s heritage floor.

Money will also go to riverfront developments and implementation of a City to River Masterplan and other projects.

The council will provide money for the 2021-22 works program from $8.9-million in external grants, $6-million from general revenue, $4.76-million from cash reserves and the balance from asset sales.

It has no plans to borrow external money this year.

Cr Gulline said the draft was based on a responsible approach to balance community priorities.

“We have seen a year like no other and this budget is aimed at getting us back on track while delivering key projects and infrastructure improvements in the coming financial year,” she said.

She said rural communities would see a substantial increase in infrastructure spending.

She said farm values had increased by 27.42 percent in the past 12 months, prompting the council to propose the eight percent discount to the agricultural sector.

“Residential ratepayers pay rates on the full value of their properties and are funding this discount,” Cr Gulline said.

“The farm sector had one of its most productive years on record during the 2020 season and this was on the back of a strong year in 2019. 

“This is driving an extremely aggressive market in farmland sales that has led to some extraordinary leaps in land value and therefore rates.

“These changes will deliver a fairer outcome to the 2021-22 rate distribution but because of the changes in valuations, we will see the average contribution of rates for the farm sector rise by 10.65 percent.

“If the council was not to adjust the differential, the farm sector increase would have been about 17.9 percent.”

The council debated the draft during a busy Monday night meeting and elements of the plan attracted considerable debate, including on the pros and cons of distributing the rate burden between sectors.

Pedestrian bridge

The inclusion of a $2.1-million Hamilton Street pedestrian bridge in budget calculations also raised concerns.

Cr Di Bell, with support from Cr Ian Ross, despite declaring support for the bridge concept overall, attempted to remove the project from the draft based on it representing ‘a defeated motion’.

They argued the council had already voted against a funding model for the bridge this year and including it in the draft was setting direction without funding confirmation.

But other councillors, led by Cr Les Power, argued that including the project in the draft, which was still ‘live’ provided an opportunity for the community to have a say through submissions. The draft budget is available on the council’s website, via a ‘Have Your Say’ section.

Cr Gulline said preparation of the annual budget was one of the council’s most important responsibilities and encouraged people to review details and provide feedback for the council to consider.

She stressed a need for people to read supporting documentation to gain a contextual view of proposals.

The council will formally adopt a budget in late June.

People can provide input or gain information via online information and feedback forms on the council website;  information displays in Horsham central business district; from a planned drop-in shop; a social-media live question and answer session; a webiner to summarise the budget and promote submissions; the council’s ‘Community Map’ as a graphic guide and tool for viewing capital works; and on online forum.

The entire April 28, 2021 edition of The Weekly Advertiser and AgLife is available online. READ IT HERE!