The Argus at KellyGang 26/2/1873
THE LOCAL GOVERNMENT COMMISSION
(FROM OUR SPECIAL REPORTER)
MELBOURNE , TUESDAY
Of all the places to which the commissioners have yet paid a visit, Beechworth is the most curious. It is a buried city. Unlike most other Australian townships, it has the air of having been where it is for a very long time. It has an aspect of steadiness which threatens to become drowsiness, if the whistle of a locomotive does not soon wake it up. The buildings, of the granite which abounds in the surrounding mountain ranges, wear a mellow and aged look, and the streets are carefully laid out and abundantly macadamised. Many a larger place contains fewer banks, for Beechworth is the business resort of an extensive neighbourhood. Moreover, the public institutions - of which the lunatic asylum is the most prominent and the most useful - are of a kind which would surprise anyone who did not know the powers and privileges enjoyed by those up-country towns whose interests have been adequately looked after from time to time at the seat of government.
The commissioners assembled in the town hall at 10 am. , and immediately proceeded with the examination of delegates. The first of these was the president of the united shire of Beechworth, Mr Frederick Brown, who pointed out the advantages gained by the union in the district he represented of the two municipal bodies which formerly existed there. The business of the united shire was economically conducted, and a community of interest was produced between the town and the surrounding neighbourhood, the effect of which was that both worked together in perfect harmony. The municipal business was conducted without any very great trouble, and they had managed hitherto to do without bye-laws.
The members of the Beechworth council were in favour of an extension of the borrowing powers at present enjoyed by the municipal bodies, but it was considered unadvisable to seek the opinion of the ratepayers before contracting a loan, because the majority of that class were apt to look rather to the present than to the future, and would vote dead against pledging the credit of the local body at all. Beechworth is lucky in having no debt, and with regard to the overdraft the banks appear to have behaved in an unusually liberal manner in not demanding, for instance, the personal guarantee of the councillors for a liquidation of the amount remaining due at the termination of the financial year. Upon the proposition to rate town allotments on a frontage value and country lots upon their acreage, the president confessed that his council was not agreed. They were inclined to accept it in a general way, but thought that absentees and occupiers of unimproved land should be amenable to some further taxation than they at present were.
There should be some means of raising the rates upon the properties of such persons to a very great extent, although it was not yet quite evident what particular scheme would meet the circumstances of the case, and a power might be given to sell such land after non-payment of rates for 14 years. Mining plant might also be brought under the rates, although in this instance, as in the foregoing one, there appeared to be many difficulties in the way. Being asked whether the Beechworth council participated in the toll fund, the president replied that they did not, that there were no tolls in the shire, and that there was a strong opinion in favour of the abolition of such a costly means of collecting revenue altogether.
Mr Brown expressed himself against the proposal that the mayor or president should be elected by the rate-payers, because a man who was very popular outside might make a very bad chairman. Mr Patterson inquired whether there was ever a case known of a local body in which there were two parties one composed of the ratepayers, the other of the councillors; and the answer was that such cases had unhappily been not uncommon. Oddly enough, however, every instance of the kind had occurred at an immense distance from Beechworth.
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