South Burnett Residents and Ratepayers Group honorary secretary Lorna Wieland said the conditions of most roads had improved near her property in Durong.
South Burnett Residents and Ratepayers Group honorary secretary Lorna Wieland said the conditions of most roads had improved near her property in Durong. Jessica McGrath

'We're victimised': Rural ratepayers on council budget

THE South Burnett Regional Council have missed an opportunity to mend their relationship with rural ratepayers.

South Burnett Residents and Ratepayers Group secretary Lorna Wieland said the group was disappointed the council knocked back a proposition to freeze the rural rates.

"I thought it was quite a compassionate chance for the council to actually redeem themselves in the eyes of the rural people," she said.

During Monday's budget meeting, councillor Ros Heit proposed for the rural rates to stay the same as last financial year.

The ratepayers group was formed after last year's budget announced a massive rate hike due to adjustments made to roll the road levy into the general rates.

Cr Heit said this change meant 50 per cent of the roads were paid by rural residents last year.

"This is a small price to pay to show primary producers that we support them," she said.

Cr Terry Fleischfresser said giving relief to rural residents, whose properties gained significant increases in land valuations, would take away from properties with a lesser value.

"It would be like taking from the poor and giving to the rich," he said.

Mrs Wieland said as a rural resident she found it to be an ill-spoken analogy.

"The reverse robin hood syndrome, I found that quite derogatory," she said.

"It exasperates the divide between rural and towns people."

The council decided to vote against freezing the rural rates with only Cr Heit and Cr Kathy Duff voting in favour of the change.

"I think council missed the opportunity to get some sort of status from the rural people," Mrs Wieland said.

"They had a golden opportunity to mend a lot of bridges and be seen in a compassionate light."

Mrs Wieland said a higher land valuation does not mean the rural residents have a larger disposable income.

With drought conditions extended across the South Burnett, Mrs Wieland and Cr Duff are concerned about the mental health of rural residents with additional financial stresses.

"People just won't be able to afford their rates, we're still in drought, cattle prices are worse than last year, there's no end in sight yet," Mrs Wieland said.

The road levy was included in the general rates so the council could execute a massive program to fix the roads in the region.

Mrs Wieland, a Durong resident, had seen improvements on the roads since the program was introduced.

"But there are still a lot of people complaining about the condition of the roads," she said.

Mrs Wieland said the current ratepayers were paying for the council's years of neglect of South Burnett roads.

"We are the ones victimised to get the roads up to speed, it should've been done years ago with a program in place," she said.

The ratepayers group have appreciated the support they have received with some councillors attending their meetings.

They were pleased to hear about the hardship policy introduced in this budget.

Read more about the South Burnett Regional Council's 2019/20 budget here.