VFF says council could do more on farm rates

THE Victorian Farmers Federation has rejected claims made by the Wellington Shire Council that it misunderstands the way local government rates are calculated.

VFF president David Jochinke said the organisation was concerned farmers in Wellington Shire would see an unfair increase in their rate bills this year, with the council refusing to help.

“Farmers in Wellington have seen their property valuations soar, yet council has decided not to use the tools at its disposal to deliver an equitable rate increase across the community,” Mr Jochinke claimed.

“Wellington farmers are facing one of the worst rate hikes in the state as a consequence.”

But Wellington Shire mayor Alan Hall said council had, for the past 18 years, provided farmers in Wellington a 20 per cent discount on their rates.

This year, in addition to that discount, he said council decided to deliver a zero per cent rate rise that would benefit all ratepayers, not just the farming sector.

“The VFF wants council to instead provide a greater than 20 per cent discount to farmers to offset the increase in the value of their farms,” he said.

“We are not willing to do that when every sector of our community is struggling through the pandemic.”

But Mr Jochinke believes council can do more for farmers, and is trying to pass blame onto the statewide valuation system.

“No one is denying there are many problems with the way valuations are carried out,” Mr Jochinke said.

“However, it’s the job of the council to mitigate the effects of increased land values by setting different rates for different classes of property.”

VFF analysis of council budgets showed a number of councils in rural and regional Victoria had successfully delivered equitable changes to rates this year, despite skyrocketing farm valuations.

“Over in the Ararat council, there has been a 22 per cent increase in farm valuations, but through good management of their budget the council is delivering a one per cent rate cut to all ratepayers, including for farmers this year.”

Mr Jochinke said there were a number of mechanisms available to councils to ease the rating burden on farmers.

“Councils should implement a dynamic rating strategy where the rate in the dollar is set at a different level for each class of property proportionate to changes in land values,” Mr Jochinke said.

“After 20 years at 80 per cent, the VFF thinks it’s time that Wellington decreased its farmland rate to accommodate for increased farmland values in comparison to other land uses.

“Wellington also chooses not to levy a municipal charge, which is a good way to help flatten the rating burden across the community.

“We are committed to working with all rural and regional councils to help deliver a fair rates system for all ratepayers.

“Farmers stand ready to sit down with Wellington Shire and offer positive solutions to create a more equitable rating strategy.”