Farmers demand rates action
FARMERS are getting a raw deal with their municipal rates and they’ve had enough.
About 60 of them gathered in the Kilcunda Hall last Thursday evening to press for action.
Regional VFF membership manager Ken Bailey told them the average farmer receives three assessments and pays $9000 a year in rates. The average residential figure is just over $1000.
Guest speaker at the meeting was Bass Coast Shire Council candidate Alan Brown, who said there were some farmers in the room whose rates had gone up 250 per cent since shire mergers 18 years ago.
“It’s an outrage,” he declared, particularly at a time when beef, dairy and lamb profits haven’t risen nearly that much, or are going backwards.
“Farmers are damned good people; wonderful citizens who want a fair go. There’s no question you aren’t getting a fair go.”
David Wanless of Jeetho chimed in, saying by 2025, his 250 acre farm would be slugged around $18,500.
“Any cocky in this room knows that’s unsustainable,” he said.
Mr Brown is a farmer himself. He said he understands the economic hardships farmers are facing.
“A rate differential is something the farming community wants,” he said.
Mr Brown pledged the differential would be part of a “top down” review he and his team of “reform” candidates have promised.
Mr Brown described as “shocking” the fact that Bass Coast Shire has the second highest rate assessment in rural Victoria.
There are 1035 farm rated properties in the shire. Some farmers formed a Rate Action Group and have been lobbying the council for more than two years.
Mr Brown suggested they stop wasting their time because “you’re not getting anywhere”.
“The fact this council has not responded positively is a disgrace,” he said.
Mayor Cr Veronica Dowman later told The Star council had employed consultants Primary Industries, who had talked with many Bass Coast farmers about issues of concern to the agricultural sector.
The consultants recommended formation of a task force and council is suggesting an advisory group with wide farming representation that would have administrative support and access to any council officer.
Cr Dowman said a differential rate would not be fair to other Bass Coast ratepayers, adding the council distributes $500,000 a year to farmers in payments to help them improve their land. Payments are now based on the basis of hectares and the largest farm in the shire is getting $16,000.
She also said municipal rates are tax deductible for farmers.
But the VFF’s policy manager Darryl Harrison said, “The tax deduction only works if you’re returning a profit.”
That body is waging a campaign to pressure the State Government into a parliamentary inquiry into “the fairness and equity of the local government rating system in rural and regional areas”.
Ken Bailey urged those in the hall to sign a letter to Local Government Minister Jeanette Powell, calling for the inquiry.
Mr Harrison said farmers were could also lobby politicians, local media, “anyone who’ll listen”.
The VFF is also researching municipal budgets looking for examples of poor spending or investment. Information gleaned will become part of their campaign.
Mr Brown gave a tongue-in-cheek example of the pressures of farming.
When the former State Transport Minister returned from his Agent-General’s role in London, he said he got sick of people asking what he was doing.
“So, I told them I’m selling hammers. I buy them at Mitre 10 for $9.95 and sell them at South Gippsland markets for $4.95.”
To his listeners’ perplexed responses, he said, “I do that because it sure beats farming.”
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