West is ?up in arms

By CRAIG McTEAR

THEY'RE hopping mad in Coffs Harbour City's western districts and, you guessed it, rates are the reason for their rage.

More than 60 people responded to the call from primary producers Martin Miller (Ashton Flat) and Peter Higgins (Brooklana) to gather at Ulong on Sunday at 4pm.

In the firing line: the city council's plans to increase rates by 22 per cent to cover an ambitious $86.7 million 'city facilities program'.

Mr Miller said yesterday the meeting was '100 per cent' against the proposed rate hike and that protest letters would be sent to the council and the NSW Local Government Minister, Tony Kelly.

Mr Kelly has the final say on whether the council can impose an 18.5 per cent increase above the 3.5 per cent jump already approved under rate pegging.

Mr Miller said the council could also expect a petition 'objecting to the rate increase and the lack of services we in the bush get'.

"We can't even get kerb and guttering and we've got dirt roads," he said.

"Of the $86.7m to be spent on city facilities, only .04 per cent of that total goes over Red Hill to rural areas," Mr Miller said.

"While it may be arguable that the facilities are available to the whole population of the Coffs Harbour area, it's obvious they will be not be accessible for rural residents to anywhere near the same extent as urban dwellers, given travelling distances and costs.

"Our meeting was about the increase in rates, which has everyone up in arms.

"Last year, the council reduced the farmland rating concession from 20 per cent to below one per cent. Farmers actually pay more rates than anyone else in Coffs Harbour.

"While it's said an average block in Coffs has a $60,000 land value, out here we're talking anything from 150 acres to 1000 acres. We've got bigger blocks.

"I don't have to tell you how farmers are struggling.

"I have 150 acres and I run 40 to 50 breeding cattle, but my gross yearly income would be less than $20,000, and I'm not the only one.

"Very shortly you'll find that people will leave the land because it's uneconomical to remain.

"The council is not giving us the concessions we need.

"My land valuation is $175,000, not $60,000 like many urban people's.

"We're paying a lot more rates and we're getting no services."

The Coffs Harbour branch of the NSW Farmers' Association has organised a meeting at the Nana Glen hall tomorrow from 12.30pm to 2pm. The mayor, Cr Keith Rhoades, and the council's corporate services director, Kyme Lavelle, are expected to attend.

The lobbying has been fast and furious in the countdown to Monday's deadline for submissions to the council's contentious draft management plan.

A petition of up to 400 signatures will soon be delivered to Minister Kelly, while 100 official submissions are to be fired in to the city council, according to Sawtell's Ray Hackett.



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