Saleyards remain open

Millicent stock agents are confident they can meet the minimum yearly throughput of 8500 head of cattle set by Wattle Range Council in order to keep the local saleyards open.

The facility was slated for closure on June 30 but the February monthly council meeting had a convincing 8/2 vote to keep it open “with strings attached”. The saleyards must meet the 8500 minimum target, with agents expected to pay an industry comparable access fee and the situation will be revisited if major infrastructure expenditure is required by regulatory authorities.

For their part, council has agreed to earmark funds in each annual budget for maintenance with the current backlog estimated at $535,000 and not including lighting repairs/replacement. The first confidential budget workshop for the 2021/22 blueprint has already been held.

At present, the yearly cattle throughput is 10,500 and four stock agent firms contribute almost $50,000 per annum in various fees and charges. Elders agent and Millicent Stock Agents Association chairman Scott Altschwager said each firm paid $936 to council each year and this comprised an access fee and office hire.

He said the agents pay a third of the yard fees charged to the producer. “We pay $4 of the $12 per head yard fee and the farmer pays the rest,” Mr Altschwager said. “The minimum throughput of 8500 is achievable.”

The successful motion followed 75 minutes of debate and was twice amended. Sitting in the public gallery were 15 farmers and stock agents. A number of them including Sandi Bell, Bevan and Kathleen Staude and Garth and Shirley Huppatz had earlier written to the council imploring them to keep the saleyards open.

“An appropriate budget needs to be put in place for regular maintenance, in order to make our assets better and keep the stock coming through our yards to prosper,” wrote the Bell and Huppatz families. “Our producers, stock agents, livestock carriers and various businesses, will suffer from the loss of our saleyards.

“No saleyards, no money for Millicent and the rest of the Wattle Range district.” Midway through the debate, the meeting was closed to the public for 15 minutes after Cr Dale Price said he had information about the management arrangements at other saleyards which he wanted to share with council on a confidential basis.

The meeting reconvened after the closed session and an attempt to extend the debate by 30 minutes was thwarted by Mayor Des Noll. With the vote deadlocked at five votes apiece, Mr Noll voted against the motion. The majority of the councillors made lengthy contributions.

Cr Dennis Muhovics said the cost of operating and maintaining the saleyards should be weighed up by the fact the council will have an income of $125m in the next five years. According to Cr Moira Neagle, expenditure on the saleyards was justified and she pointed out council had spent $500,000 on the town square at Penola.

Cr John Drew said the onus was on the producers to send their cattle to the local market. According to Cr Price, many kilometres of unsealed roads could be graded for the amount of money expended on keeping the Millicent saleyards operational.

“The saleyards benefit a relatively small number,” Cr Price said. Cr Burrow said a surcharge on each head of cattle sold could assist the financial situation. Cr Rick Paltridge was strident in his opposition to the saleyards owing to the heavy financial impost on council.

According to Cr Paltridge, the decision related to the management of public finances. When the motion from Cr Drew to continue the conditional operation of the saleyards was put to the meeting, the only opponents were Crs Paltridge and Burrow who both represent the Penola-based Riddoch ward.

Sorby Adams ward representaticve Cr Deb Agnew was an apology from the meeting. The next Millicent sale starts at 8.30am today.

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