WIMMERA councils are taking action against residents who break the law through a number of different channels.
It comes after a recent spate of cases where councils have successfully taken residents to court. However, councils say court is always the last resort.
A Horsham Rural City Council spokesman said the council had taken two cases to court this year.
The council successfully prosecuted a dog owner at the Horsham Magistrates' Court in May after her dog attacked another dog.
The owner was ordered to pay fines and costs totalling $800, plus compensation for veterinary treatment for the other dog and the council's legal fees.
A Horsham man narrowly avoided jail last month after the council took him to court for dumping rubbish in the Wimmera River. The man was fined $3000 and ordered to pay clean-up costs.
The man's co-accused did not appear at court and a warrant was issued for her arrest.
Hindmarsh Shire Council also took a resident to court last month after he didn't pay his council rates.
The man was ordered to pay $5730, plus $563 interest, as well as $6998 for the council's legal and administration fees.
Horsham Rural City Council
A HORSHAM council spokesman said council had not increased its focus on prosecuting cases in court and matters were assessed on a specific needs basis.
"We take dog attacks to court as they are required to be heard in court, rather than being dealt with by infringements," he said.
"Other cases council takes to court can include rubbish dumping, parking appeals, warrants for clean-up orders and prevention of cruelty to animals prosecutions."
He said council had to undertake a number of processes before taking residents to court over unpaid rates.
"Council also has the option of taking recalcitrant ratepayers to court. However before that occurs, there are several internal and external procedures in place to recover unpaid rates," he said.
"There is also an option for ratepayers who are suffering financial hardship to have their payments deferred in accordance with the rates and charges financial hardship policy."
Yarriambiack Shire Council
YARRIAMBIACK Shire Council chief executive Jessie Holmes said the council took residents to court for a number of reasons.
"We do take unpaid rates to court but only after we have followed a number of requirements from the Local Government Act including payment plan opportunities," she said.
"Taking unpaid rates to court is usually a last resort. With late rates we try a number of debt related strategies to recover the money.
"Other court cases range from planning permits that may go to the Victorian Civil and Administrative Tribunal; local laws such as dog attacks and dumping of rubbish and other environmental health complaints; and fire compliance infringements.
"Most recently, the council has had a number of residents who failed to comply with a fire prevention notice to court."
She the council's first commitment was to educate residents about local laws.
"It is usually repeat offenders that fail to comply that are taken to court. The severity of the breach may also be a factor," she said.
Ms Holmes said the council was almost always successful with its court cases.
"We are also more often than not awarded costs for legal fees incurred because we demonstrate that we have tried to have compliance reached in alternative ways and haven't just gone straight to court," she said.
"The average case, including the value of the infringement - usually $1500 - is often between $3000 and $5000."
West Wimmera Shire Council
WEST Wimmera Shire Council Corporate and Community Services director Ashley Roberts said "very overdue" ratepayers would be taken to court as part of the council's debt collection process.
"All ratepayers are given the opportunity to enter into a payment arrangement scheme. We would only progress to court if the debt is over $1,700," he said.
"We can apply to a court to have a property sold to collect outstanding rates if the debt is greater than $5000 and no attempt at payment has been made for over two years."
Mr Roberts said serious breaches of local laws, such as dangerous dog orders and planning or environment breaches, happened "rarely".
"If we did take legal action it would be under the auspices of another Act, such as the Domestic Animals Act or Planning Act, and only after a number of attempts have been made to resolve the issue. It is extremely uncommon for us to pursue these matters in court," he said.
He said the council was often successful in taking long overdue ratepayers to court.
"Council received an order to sell properties for outstanding rates over the last couple of years. These tend to be abandoned properties and have never been any person's residence," he said.
"The values of these properties tend to be quite low, none have gone anywhere near $100,000, mostly significantly less than $50,000."
The average court case costs the council less than $10,000. Mr Roberts said the council always tried to recover costs and was "generally successful".
"Where the legal costs are not recovered they would come from council's general funds. This is made up of untied grant funding, rates, user charges and other fees and charges," he said.
Hindmarsh Shire Council
HINDMARSH Shire Council chief executive Greg Wood said most of council's enforceable laws attracted infringement notices.
"These offences can end up in court either because the respondent repeatedly refuses to pay or else the respondent chooses to challenge the infringement in court. These cases are rare for Hindmarsh shire," he said.
"Other matters which may end up in court include rates arrears. These types of matters only end up in court after exhaustive attempts to arrange payment.
"These matters ending in court are also rare, but one was reported recently by the Mail-Times. In this case the respondent was ordered to pay council's legal costs."
Ararat Rural City Council
ARARAT Rural City Council chief executive Tim Harrison said the council used legal proceedings as a last resort.
"Council would rather negotiate outcomes with its residents and ratepayers," he said.
Dr Harrison said the council offered payment options to help people in difficult financial circumstances.
"Ararat council is here for its community and we feel taking people to court is not in the spirit of what we are here to do," he said.
Northern Grampians Shire Council
Northern Grampians Shire Council declined to comment.
While you're with us, you can now receive updates straight to your inbox twice weekly from the Wimmera Mail-Times. To make sure you're up-to-date with all the news from across the Wimmera, sign up below.