By Nick Thompson
Noosa Council has imposed a whopping 17-fold increase in rates on the property which houses the controversial Kin Kin Quarry.
Retired dairy farmer John Shepperson, who owns the property and leases the quarry site to Cordwell Resources, knew nothing about the massive rise until his annual notice and six-monthly rates bill arrived last week.
The 1688 per cent increase, thought to be unprecedented in council’s history, was slipped in with the annual rating changes approved by Noosa’s mayor and councillors at the end of June as part of the annual budget process.
A spokesman for Noosa Council said the change was introduced to reflect “the additional impacts of the property use on council road infrastructure“.
And while the rates bill will have been served on the property owner, it is common practice for the owner to pass on rates and charges as outgoings to a tenant under a commercial lease arrangement.
While most of Noosa’s residential ratepayers were probably grateful to see this year’s rates increase limited to an average of 2.9 per cent, Mr Shepperson discovered his percentage increase was almost 600 times greater.
Noosa Council has not made any announcement about the change but it can be found in the ’Rating Category Statement’ attached to each of the individual rates invoices sent to all ratepayers twice a year.
Mr Shepperson’s property, at the end of Shepperson’s Lane several kilometres east of Kin Kin, is the only property in Noosa Shire to be categorised as ’Extractive Industries – Quarries Greater Than 50,000 tonnes’.
In the last financial year (’20/’21) it was rated at 1.0910 cents in the dollar with a minimum figure of $1577. This was slightly more than double the equivalent rate for a Rural and Agricultural property.
But the latest rating category statement sees the charge skyrocketing to 19.5150 cents in the dollar with a minimum figure set at $57,950. That is more than 41 times the equivalent rate for Rural & Agricultural Property.
In short, his rates bill has gone up by an eye-watering 1688 per cent.
Noosa Council has confirmed that it only has one ratepayer in the ’Extractive Industries – Quarries Greater Than 50,000 tonnes’ category and that the ratepayer is Mr Shepperson.
The Shepperson family were among the first European settlers to select blocks of land in the Kin Kin district when they were offered for sale more than 100 years ago and they have remained on the property ever since.
Noosa Today has been told Mr Shepperson has discussed the matter with his solicitors and council confirmed he has met with the Mayor and council CEO but no appeal has been made against the rates increase.
Making an appeal may be difficult.
The council’s rate schedule states: “the only ground you can object on is that given Council’s descriptions of the differential general rating categories your property should be in another category.“
It also advises: “Your objection must be lodged with council within 30 days of the issue of your rate notice. If an objection is lodged the rates and charges levied continue to be due and payable. If the differential category is altered as a result of the objection an adjustment of the rates will be made.“
But as Mr Shepperson’s property is thought to have been in the “Extractive Industries“ category without objection for a number of years and with the latest rates increase for the category having been approved by vote at several public council meetings during the budget approval process, the grounds for an appeal appear limited.
To be sure, the new rate for the “Extractive Industries“ category is without parallel.
To put it in context, the level of 19.5150 cents in the dollar is more than 10 times higher than the next nearest category in the Noosa Council ratings table – shopping centres greater than 20,000 square metres in size.
A number of questions about the issue were put to a council spokesman and the following replies were received:
Why was such a large increase introduced for this one category?
The change in the minimum and rate in the dollar ($) reflects the additional impacts of the property use on council road infrastructure.
How many properties and or property/owners will be affected by this increase?
Were they notified in advance of the change?
The property owner was not directly contacted. Council did publish the proposed rating changes with the draft budget as part of its community consultation in May-June 2021. This was available on the Your Say Noosa website.
What will the effect be on their annual rates bill in dollar terms?
It is up to the individual property owner to provide if they wish.
Is the rates increase levied on the property owner or the ’tenant’ carrying out the extractive industry work?
Rates are applicable to the property and its owner. It is, however, common practice for a property owner to pass on rates and charges as outgoings to a tenant under a commercial lease arrangement.
This latest development in the relationship between the council and the quarry operators comes at a critical time.
It is coming up to one year since the Kin Kin Community Group organised the first public meeting to discuss the dramatic increase in daily truck movements between the quarry and Pomona.
That meeting, on August 19, 2020, led to the formation of the multi-party roundtable meetings at Noosa Council which have included community representatives, councillors and staff, the mayor, Noosa MP Sandy Bolton, the police, state government agencies and even, in the early days, a representative from Cordwell Resources.
The roundtable group was set to meet this week amid expectation that a long-awaited report from a barrister into the viability of opening a legal case against the quarry operator would be tabled. But the meeting has been rescheduled until later this month with “information still being assessed“.
Noosa Council embarked on a scientific data-gathering survey earlier this year with monitors, cameras and sensors being used to detect noise, dust and the number, weight and speed of vehicles along the haulage routes from the quarry.
The data was passed to the Brisbane-based legal team which has been assessing how it might be used in potential legal action.
Noosa Council has also issued fines totalling $160,000 against Cordwell Resources for alleged breaches of the Quarry Management Plan.
None of the fines had been paid. Council confirmed they were appealed by the operator and are going through the court process.