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By Jeremy Sollars

The Southern Downs Regional Council could be close to making a decision on the potential leasing out of the Warwick Saleyards, as industry discussion continues over the controversial proposal.
The Free Times understands local livestock agents attended a meeting with council officers and representatives of the council’s ‘preferred tenderer’ just before Christmas.
The council announced in September last year it had selected a preferred tenderer following a call for expressions of interest earlier in 2017, but would not disclose their identity.
The Free Times has been given information relating to the operator involved – not based in Warwick – and has asked them to confirm if they are the preferred tenderer but to date has not received any response.
What we can reveal is that agents at the meeting in December were provided with an indicative schedule of the fees the operator may charge, and they are significantly higher than those currently charged by the council – to the tune of around 50 per cent.
At present cattle vendors at the Warwick Saleyards are charged a flat rate of $8.15 per head, plus an infrastructure levy of $1 per head, and sheep vendors are charged 70 cents per head and an infrastructure levy of 30 cents per head, all inclusive of GST.
The operator understood to be the preferred tenderer could charge a sliding scale of ‘yard fees’ based on how much cattle and sheep are sold for.
But with an average of $7.20 per head, for cattle, plus a ‘service fee’ of $3.60 per head (covering weighing, NLIS scanning and handling) plus GST the average per head fees could be just under the $12 per head mark – an increase of close to 50 per cent.
Vendors of bulls could be charged a yard fee of $16.50 per head, plus the service fee and GST.
Sheep and lamb vendors could be hit even harder, with an average yard and weighing fee of $3.50, including GST, per head, compared to $1 per head under the council’s current fees.
Also of concern to local agents is the affiliation fee the new operator could charge, listed in their schedule as an “agent turnover fee” – meaning agents’ businesses would be charged the equivalent of 15 per cent of their total annual turnover every year.
In some cases, that figure could represent the annual wages of at least one full-time employee, if not more, depending on the size of the business.
The indicative fee schedule aligns with the fears held by many in the region’s livestock producer community that increased fees introduced by a private saleyards lessee could drive sellers and buyers to other saleyards or to online sales.
Many have also been critical of the possible move to lease out the Warwick Saleyards on the basis that it returns an annual profit, or its income at least offsets operating costs.
• Read more in this week’s print edition of the Southern Free Times or see the full story online in our e-paper edition at www.freetimes.com.au

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