VICTORIAN farmers battling to keep differential local government rating systems have welcomed the appointment of three commissioners to investigate the Ararat Rural City Council.
But farmers in the northern Victorian Gannawarra Shire now face increasing differential rates after a council meeting this week.
THE Victorian Farmers Federation has welcomed the appointment of three commissioners to investigate Ararat Rural City Council over its rating strategy.
Former commissioner with the Commission of Inquiry into the Greater Geelong City Council, Frances O’Brien QC, will chair the Ararat inquiry. Ms O’Brien will be joined by former Brimbank City Council administrator John Tanner AM and local government expert Mark Davies.
Local farmers campaigned against the Ararat council’s plan to scrap its differential rating strategy in favour of a uniform system, which would have meant the area’s primary producers suffering a 45 percent rate hike.
VFF president David Jochinke said there has been a lot of anger and frustration in the Ararat community over the council’s rating strategy, and we’re relieved to see the State Government stepping in with this inquiry.
“We have confidence that the investigation will be conducted fairly and openly by a commission that is bringing extensive knowledge in local government administration to their roles, and we look forward to seeing the results of the inquiry when the report is released.”
The commission will consult with Ararat ratepayers as part of its process before handing down its report on August 1.
“It’s becoming impossible for farmers to pass on rate increases because farm land is a means of production and its value bears little relationship to the farmers’ wealth or capacity to pay.
“Farmers don’t receive the same benefits for their rates as other businesses and this should be reflected in the Council’s rating strategy,” Mr Jochinke said.
Gannawarra Shire rates to go up nearly 15pc in four years
The VFF said the Gannawarra Shire Council on Wednesday night voted to raise farm differential rates by almost 15pc over the next four years
Gannawarra Shire Council has agreed to abandon a plan to scrap its farm differential rating strategy but dryland farm rates will rise from 78.9pc to 81.62pc after July 1, before reaching 90pc by 2021, the VFF said.
VFF vice president and Gannawarra resident Brett Hosking said the vote showed a reckless disregard for a key regional industry.
“The council’s decision is seriously short-sighted and lacks any strategy as far as ratepayers have been told,” Mr Hosking said.
“Farmers are going to have to find an extra $2500 somewhere to top up council coffers each year, which puts the farm sector at a clear disadvantage when we are one of Gannawarra Shire’s key employers.
“The agriculture industry directly employs 25pc of residents in Gannawarra Shire,” he said.
“Shifting extra costs onto the Shire’s biggest employer will not create new jobs to grow our community.
“This plan isn’t logical and will have widespread economic impacts not just to the farm sector, but to the whole local economy.”
Mr Jochinke said the VFF was in the process of writing to all rural and regional councils explaining the importance of maintaining differential rating strategies.
“The VFF is working with farmers in Gannawarra and Ararat to ensure they don’t suffer because of poor budget decisions being made by their councils,” he said.