I have read the recent reports surrounding the rates harmonisation proposal and thought it important to address some serious misconceptions. I would like to consider myself a friend of both communities and confirm that I was not asked to write this letter by anyone on Council, nor did I receive any money or benefit from doing so.
I only spend this time writing because I believe both communities have had a rough time of things and I would like to save additional pain and confusion. The central proposition before Council is that the only fair way to raise revenue is for given categories of taxpayers in the Council to pay the same rate of taxation.
The problems we are faced with are:
1. That for the last three years ratepayers using their land in precisely the same way, but living in slightly different geographical position, have been paying completely different rates of taxation.
2. That in the former Cootamundra council area some sub-categories of ratepayers had been gifted extraordinary discounts on their taxation in the past. For instance, one subcategory of residential was paying less than a quarter of the tax rate paid by other residential peers, and one subcategory of business was paying less than one-eighth of the tax rate paid by other businesses.
Clearly, to provide such incredible discounts to some special groups, meant that others were forced to pay more than their fair share of tax.
3. Compounding matters was the release of new land valuations by the Valuer-General which always results in ratepayers who have had large windfall gains in land value paying a higher quantum of tax.
Before I commenced work on the harmonisation project I ensured that all Councillors were aware that: (i) there would be both winners and losers from a rate harmonisation, and (ii) that the Councillors understood that they could defer the harmonisation for a further year.
I was very impressed by the courage and integrity of the Councillors to make tough political decisions to do what was right, as well as their willingness to face any adverse consequences.
The task facing those wishing to delay or avoid rate harmonisation is to provide good and persuasive reasons for doing so. Essentially, they need to convince all ratepayers that it is reasonable for some special groups of taxpayers to continue to receive extraordinary discounts on their rate of taxation - and that it is fair for the remainder of the taxpayers to pay a higher rate so that this can be achieved.
Unless they can make a compelling case to this affect, then the noise surrounding this decision could be perceived by some as merely an attempt to protect a special arrangement at the cost of other ratepayers.
Unfortunately amalgamation brings both good and bad outcomes.
For three years the community has really only experienced the good. However, to have a fair and sustainable local government it is inevitable that we must also face up to some of the bad. My heart goes out to people who have been asked to give up previous discounts to taxation, but I cannot see any other way of ensuring that everyone in Cootamundra-Gundagai Regional Council is treated fairly.
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