South Burnett Deputy Mayor Kathy Duff said the timing of the rate increase was not ideal.
South Burnett Deputy Mayor Kathy Duff said the timing of the rate increase was not ideal. Contributed

Council says it's too late to change rates

SOUTH Burnett Regional Council said it was too late to change rates, despite pressure from a peak agriculture body.

AgForce Queensland has urged the council to rethink its rural rate hike, with drought affected farmers facing a rise between eight and 17 per cent this year.

Acting South Burnett Mayor Kathy Duff said the council was not in a position to make changes to the budget, as so many other different areas of the budget would be impacted.

"We're not in a position to change the budget at this point," she said.

According to the 2009 Local Government Act, the council may only decide what rates will be charged at the budget meeting for that financial year.

"A local government must decide, by resolution at the local government's budget meeting for a financial year, what rates and charges are to be levied for that financial year," the Act says.

Section 170 of the Local Government Regulations 2012 deals with the amendment of the budget and reiterates the amendment must be consistent with the decision about rates made at the budget meeting.

Ratepayers across every category were affected when the Council decided to merge the road levy and environmental levy with the general rates within the 2018/19 budget, Cr Duff said.

Rural ratepayers were not specifically targeted with the hike, however the rate discount period was extended for the purposes of assisting the rural residents, she said.

"With the fact of the drought the timing is not ideal, and we're certainly sympathetic towards the rural people, and we've extended the discount period to try and make it easier," Cr Duff said.

Due to regulations, the discount period extension was made accessible to all South Burnett ratepayers.

The South Burnett Regional Council had a visit from a local government consultant to look over this year's rates.

"To look across our rating process and compare it with other like councils," Cr Duff said.

"Advising us on what we needed to do to keep our council business sound into the future, and where we need to be with rates."

With the way council is operating at the moment its has managed to shift from an operating deficit, to a surplus.

With this stability, the council will focus on getting rural roads fixed, Cr Duff said.

"We're demanding our roads team fix the rural roads and grade the roads right across our region," she said.

"Along with rates comes the service delivery on the roads."

The council has payment plans available for ratepayers who are struggling to pay their rates, and encourage ratepayers to access this service.

The council will take AgForce's points and the community's concerns into consideration when preparing next year's budget.

"Council needs to have way more consultations prior to making decisions," Cr Duff said.

The council is working to improve its communication strategies, and has now employed a communications officer.

"We will certainly look at letting people know what's going to happen in due course, so they can manage their budgets for the impacts of any rate rise," Cr Duff said.

"Anything that's going to impact people across our region, they need to be aware of it, and we will have better communication strategies into the future."