Citizens’ Jury sits on Rating Strategy

Posted Monday 23 April, 03:18pm

Caption: Jury member representatives Elinor Ebsworth (Mininera), Bob Milne (Pomonal), Scott Norman (Moyston), Anna Lidgerwood (Ararat) present to Councillors.

A Citizens’ Jury has spent the weekend of the 21 & 22 of April taking a deep dive into Council’s rating strategy. The Jury was provided with a report from the Rating Strategy Advisory Group who has been meeting since December last year. The advisory group and Jury marks a new way for Council to engage with the people of Ararat Rural City on important topics that affect everyone in the municipality.

Jurors were asked by the Chief Executive Officer, Allan Bawden (who was in attendance to answer questions throughout the weekend) to consider the report provided to them and answer Which rating option from the Rating Strategy Advisory Group is the most fair and equitable for Ararat?  They were further asked Could you draw on different aspects of each to reach a model which earns greater support?

While Jurors had a specific scope to work to over the weekend the topic of Council’s budget was at the front of mind for many. A general concern expressed by members of the group was that they felt the overall rate burden for all rate payers is too high. The final report makes recommendations to both Council and the State Government to make some changes. 

Jury members said there has been some challenges arriving at their decisions due to some unknowns going forward. These include future expected valuations and possible changes to the Local Government Act. Jury Member Scott Norman said, “We would like to see Council undertake an external audit into the fiscal health to try to extract cost savings and increase efficiencies of operations with a view to lowering the overall rates burden, to more evenly distribute the rates.” 

Rick Westgarth who was also a member of the Jury said, “Although at times the process was frustrating and the time constraints were challenging, it was a great process to be a part of.  It was also very positive to see that Council is interested in engaging with residents through this process. I think it was really encouraging how so many people came together with a mutual goal of trying to find some solutions to such a complex issue”.

At the end of the Jury deliberations a presentation was made to Councillors which the Rating Strategy Advisory Group were also invited to observe. Deputy Mayor Cr Gwenda Allgood said, “I really admire the people who have put their hand up to do this particular job – it’s a very big task and a big learning curve”. Cr Allgood also said she was very proud to see all 6 Councillors in attendance to hear the feedback in person.

25 people from across the municipality were selected randomly after registering to participate in the Jury. The process was assisted and designed by the New Democracy who are assisting government across the country to better engage with communities. The weekend was facilitated by independent facilitators Annie Bolithio and Chad Foulkes, with economist Trevor Koops and the assistance of Council officers.

CEO Mr. Allan Bawden thanked the facilitators, staff, the Jurors and the Rating Strategy Advisory Group for committing their time. Mr Bawden said, “It was an incredible amount of time spent on this work and a great investment in the future of Ararat Rural City.”

The final report and a formal response from the Ararat Rural City Council will be made available to the public as part of the Rating Strategy, Budget and Council Plan feedback period.