Rate confusion sparks landholder backlash

Liz Bell

Farmers hit back at rate increase

MASSIVE rate rises for some land owners in Wellington Shire is leading to frustration and anger among ratepayers, with some slugged with increases of up to 44 per cent over two years.

The rate hike has the farming industry, ratepayers and shire staff at loggerheads.

The council handed down its 2020-21 budget two weeks ago with no increase in the general rate and waste charges, but a misunderstanding about how rates are determined continues to cause ratepayer anxiety.

What is misunderstood by many is that property values are largely determined by the Valuer-General, not the council.

Since 2018, they have been conducted annually, rather than biannually, by an independent valuer.

This leaves little room for consideration of market fluctuations, with valuations based on sales activity leading up to and close to January 1 each year.

Despite councils not collecting extra revenue as a result of changes in property valuations, angry ratepayers who claim they are being “gouged” are directing their anger at the council.

Stradbroke resident Jeremy Richardson said his property consisted of a dilapidated, prefabricated house and two run down sheds on an unproductive 92 acres of dryland covered in weeds and dust, close to the highway.

“The whole property is worth around $280,000, but the valuation has come in at around $425,000 – that’s from someone sitting at a desk who has no idea what it is like out here,” he said.

“When I called the council this year [to complain], someone in the rates department told me $425,000 was ‘cheap’.”

Mr Richardson has vowed to lodge a complaint with the Valuer-General’s office, and hopes to force a revaluation.

The Victorian Farmers Federation said the farm rate increase in Wellington Shire equated to 11.58 per cent, with president David Jochinke suggesting the local council was not doing enough to help struggling farmers.

But mayor Alan Hall said while the council recognised many farms would be faced with a higher rate bill based on their higher property valuation, it had in place a 20 per cent rate discount in place for farmers, and had done so for about 20 years.

A council spokesperson accused the VFF of running “a statewide campaign against rural councils”, despite being “fully briefed a number of times” about how rates and valuations worked.

“As always, we notify ratepayers that they are welcome to request a review of their property valuation through the Valuer-General’s office.

“We have the paperwork for this at our office and can either provide it through our customer service centres or email out on request,” she said.

A spokesperson for the Department of Land, Environment, Water and Planning, which covers rating valuations, said ratepayers who believe their property is significantly under or over-valued were encouraged to contact their council.

He said the Valuer-General was the valuation authority for all municipalities in Victoria, apart from Mildura, Mornington Peninsula, South Gippsland and Hume.

“If a ratepayer disputes a valuation they may object by lodging an objection form with the council or the State Revenue Office within two months of the date of issue shown on the Rate and Valuation Notice or Land Tax Assessment Notice,” he said.

“It is advisable that the ratepayer first discuss their concerns with the council or SRO.

“If the council or SRO is unable to assist they may forward the enquiry to the valuer appointed to undertake the valuation on behalf of the Valuer-General.”

People wanting more information about the rating system are encouraged to go to the Engage Victoria Fact Sheet.