by Julia Baker
DISGRUNTLED residents have rallied together and are calling on Western Downs Regional Council to hold a community meeting to address concerns about continual rate hikes.
Locals are taking to Facebook to vent their outrage over the council's latest rates notices, with many claiming they've been slugged with rate hikes of more than 50%.
Western Downs Concerned Rates Payers, a Facebook group kicked off by Tara resident Sandra Bamberry, has amassed almost 1000 followers since it started on September 14 - less than a month ago.
Ms Bamberry started the Facebook group in a bid to take a power-in-numbers approach to the rates hike and to appeal to the council to address residents' concerns with a public meeting.
"People need to know where to go and what to do, every day there is people joining up and adding information that is helping everybody. We have to keep going as a group and keep council accountable and stop their unreasonable rates rises,” she said.
"I think council needs to hold a town meeting at a time when people can get there.
"They need to hold a meeting where people can speak to them and feel they are being heard. People feel they are not being heard and it's just 'our way or the highway'.”
The council has told residents it is investigating the "complicated” issue after some submitted formal complaints.
Former WDRC councillor and deputy mayor, George Moore, said he had taken issue with the rate-in-the-dollar amount and called on the council to return to a more equitable system.
"I have made a formal submission in that regard,” Mr Moore said.
"I think it's wrong.
"Valuations is the only fair way of distributing, local government rates is a wealth tax effectively and the only way to distribute it is to use valuation, but they have disregarded the valuation and have decided that people in Chinchilla, Miles or Wandoan should be paying a higher amount.”
Western Downs Regional Council Mayor Paul McVeigh said the council needed time to work through a process but said at this stage it did not have plans to hold a community meeting.
He said only a small amount of residents had submitted formal complaints to council.
"We do know the issues and we are actually going through those and we have had enough feedback,” he said.
"It will all have to go back to full council meetings, it will take a bit of time.
"We are reviewing it and we are going through a process and it is a complicated process.
"We have to provide a vibrant community so it is attractive for business to come here, people need to have patience because this council is very much focused on building our economy to put value back into what has decreased.”
Many residents, including Ms Bamberry, say they believe the council is determining rates based upon an assumption of 'capacity to pay'. Guidelines outlined by The Department of Infrastructure, Local Government and Planning on equity and fairness in rating, recommends local governments "ensure a fair and equitable system is implemented for the benefit of all ratepayers”.
Furthermore, it stipulates that "local governments must be mindful not to take into account the 'capacity of the owner of land' to pay rates”.
Ms Bamberry said she did not believe WDRC was following the guidelines and highlighted its lack of consultation in response to the department's best practice guidelines.
The guidelines call on councils to consult with ratepayers on significant increases to rates.
"Basically the council are elected as our representatives, they are elected by the communmity and they are paid by the money we pay,” she said.
"They work for us and they need to be able to speak to us as a group and listen to how people feel. You can't sit in an office and not listen to the people because they are the ones that voted for you.”