All Breeds Sale at NRLX- Casino Saleyards.
All Breeds Sale at NRLX- Casino Saleyards. Susanna Freymark

CATTLE STRIKE: Standoff over Casino saleyards' fee increase

CASINO livestock agents have united in opposition against Richmond Valley Council's imposition of new fees to help pay for the major upgrade of the Northern Rivers Livestock Exchange.

After months of negotiations the agents this week refused to sign the new agreement to pay $1 per head of cattle sold to help fund the capital upgrade, which are now underway and expected to be complete by 2018.

As a result the council has suspended auctions at the facility for at least a week.

The standoff could threaten the council's financial position, which includes a debt of $3.5 million borrowed to fund the total $14 million upgrade of the facility. The remaining $7 million was provided from the NSW Government last month, plus $3.5 million from the Federal Government.

Richmond Valley Council general manager Vaughan Macdonald said the council had been left with no choice but to cancel next week's sales after the five agents refused to sign permits.

"At some point in time we needed to draw the line," he said. "Unfortunately that line was reached. We'd prefer it was resolved but for that to happen there needs to be some willingness to compromise."

But president of the Casino Auctioneers Association Matthew McCormack said the fee increase on both agents and vendors was unfair.

He said the $1 per head fee would have sent his annual bill skyrocketing from $3600 three years ago to $44,500 this year.

He said where other facilities had similar fees, the facility owner paid for the saleyard workforce.

Rising vendor fees were also an issue, having risen from $9 a head two years ago, to $12.50 this year.

Mr McCormack said the council was "dreaming" if they thought vendors deserved to pay more before the facility was fully built.

Richmond Valley Mayor Robert Mustow has backed the fee increase, saying the NRLX had to operate as a self-sustaining business unit to avoid an impost on ratepayers.

The council conducted a public consultation over the fee changes in April before they were put on public exhibition and passed in June.

Last year the saleyards turned over $113 million, up from $87 million the previous year on the back of high prices. The number of cattle sold was also up 13.5%.

However, the result was a deficit of $687,000. Mr Macdonald said the deficit was after capital deductions and the council had already spent $2.6 million on improving the facility.

He said other saleyeards aross NSW had similar fees and when finished the complex would be one of the best saleyards in Australia with high standards of animal welfare and improved work health and safety conditions.

"The way it's been done here for 35 years is that they pay next to nothing, and we're moving to a user pay model so the general ratepayer isn't called upon to fund the difference," he said.