ARARAT district farmers won a last-minute reprieve in their battle against a council plan to dump differential rates when local councillors last night voted to defer a decision on the controversial rating strategy.
The Victorian Farmers Federation said the proposed uniform rate plan would have forced a 45 percent rate hike onto farmers.
The decision by Rural City of Ararat councillors came after Minister for Local Government Natalie Hutchins last week announced the State Government would conduct an inquiry into the council’s governance by August 1.
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Under the new rates plan, farmers would collectively pay nearly $2.5 million more per year in council rates, while residents, commercial enterprises and industrial businesses would all get a tax cut, the VFF said.
“Ararat has a thriving farm sector which is one of the key economic drivers of the community, and the council risks bankrupting the local industry if it pursues this rates plan,” VFF president David Jochinke said.
“There has been a huge amount of frustration and outrage in the community.
“Farmers have made it clear the proposed strategy is unacceptable and it’s up to the council to offer an alternative solution.”
The Ararat council first floated the idea of abolishing farm differential rates in April, blindsiding the community, the VFF said.
Local farmers have waged a campaign against the proposal, with the council receiving almost 600 submissions opposing the strategy.
Mr Jochinke said the council owed farmers a responsibility to ensure local primary producers wouldn’t face additional economic stress because of the 2017/18 budget.
“Ararat is home to 1700 farmers and they rely on their local councillors to make decisions in their best interest,” he said.
“It is impossible for farmers to pass on increases, which is something council has recognised in the past,” Mr Jochinke said.
“The council needs to step up, take its civic responsibility seriously, and reject this proposal once and for all to give farmers security about their finances.”