Farmers shouldering rate rise claims are ‘misleading’

CLAIMS that farmers in the Wellington Shire face a rate rise of more than four per cent, despite residential rates remaining within the state government-set 2.25 per cent Fair Go rates cap, are misleading, according to a council spokesperson.

Recent reports in the national media have claimed that Victorian farmers are shouldering the burden of rate rises, so that councils can stick to the state government-enforced rate cap on residential properties.

The reported farming rate rises vary throughout the state, with nearby Baw Baw farmers facing a hike of almost 8 per cent, and Mount Alexander farmers set to pay almost 30 per cent more.

Industry sources say the jump is partly due to rising property values, and partly due to the push to keep residential rates within the mandated cap.

Victorian Farmers Federation president David Jochinke said farmers across the state were not accepting the rate rises without a fight.

He said farmers rising up against the “unfair rates burden on farmland” protested on Wednesday at the Mildura Rural City Council offices over that shire’s proposed rates increase of 22.87 per cent for farmland.

However, a Wellington Shire council spokesperson said the information provided in the media was wrong, as farms were also covered by the rate-capping, and paid only 80 per cent of the general rate.

Despite this, in partnership with farmers, the VFF has held meetings and rallies in Kalkee and Ouyen to discuss the challenges with sustainable funding of rural councils and to protest the increasing rates burden on farmers across many councils.

“We want to work with councils across Victoria to promote a balanced rating strategy that shares the burden between all rating categories,” Mr Jochinke said.

“Northern Grampians council has shown leadership this week by adopting a budget that balances the rates increase between residential, farm and business to 2.25 per cent. We hope other councils follow their lead.

“From the start, Yarriambiack Shire Council has strived to fairly share the rates burden by setting a standard 2.25 per cent rates increase across all categories. Bullock Shire is also actively managing the differential to balance the burden. We now look to councils such as Mildura, Horsham and Pyrenees to adjust their budgets to balance the burden.”

Capping rates increases to 2.25 per cent for each category is necessary to fairly share the rates burden. However, Mr Jochinke said that the would not be a long-term solution to funding rural councils.

“There is a lot more work to be done to create a sustainable funding framework for rural councils that addresses the broken rating system and the clear inequities between urban and rural councils. But while we work on those long-term solutions, we cannot expect farmers to shoulder the rates burden,” he said.