Rural ratepayers to ‘push back’

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Rural ratepayers to ‘push back’

Rural ratepayers will “push back” on Wattle Range Council’s draft 2024/25 budget according to Councillor Emma Castine.

She anticipates there will be an adverse reaction given the rural sector’s share of the rate burden in challenging times

The first-term Riddoch Ward councillor made her comments during a special council meeting held in Millicent on Tuesday to adopt the draft budget which seeks a rate revenue rise of almost 7%.

Her remarks were countered by Mayor Des Noll who said other businesses were also being challenged by various circumstances.

After 25 minutes of debate, the meeting endorsed the draft budget and it has been released for public comment.

Earlier in the day, council’s audit and risk sub-committee had considered the draft budget and also gave it an uptick.

Running to almost 100 pages, the 2024/25 draft budget forecasts a Net Operating Deficit of $2.1m based on operating income of $33.9m and operating expenditure of $36.07m including $7.455m in depreciation.

Newly-elected councillor John Shelton queried whether the draft budgets were often changed in response to public feedback.

In reply, deputy chief executive Paul Duka said this was sometimes the case and gave an example from 2023 when there was lobbying from the Southend community with regards to footpaths.

Cr Dale Price queried the allocation of $5000 for timberwork on the 140-year-old former St Nicholas Anglican Church at Beachport.

“Do we own a church?” Cr Price asked.

Engineering services director Peter Halton said the former church was part of the adjoining council-owned National Trust Museum.

Mr Halton said the former church contained displays, had heritage value and was a tourist attraction.

“It is rather nice,” Cr John Drew said.

Cr Price also expressed his frustration with State Government decisions which placed additional financial pressures on Wattle Range Council.

According to Cr Price, the forests and windfarms are under-valued while council has been losing around $100,000 in rate revenue per annum for several years ever since the former Housing Trust dwellings were transferred to Unity Housing.

The allocation of $106,000 to the now-closed Millicent Saleyards was queried by Cr Dennis Muhovics.

Chief executive Ben Gower explained there were still costs such as EPA licence fees.

“A report is coming to council on the future of the land and assets,” Mr Gower said.

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