Council has power to act on farm rate burden

John Buxton, Bundalaguah

LETTER TO THE EDITOR

THE Gippsland branch of the Victorian Farmers Federation would like to respond to articles quoting the mayor of the Wellington Shire (23/6 and 7/7).

At no stage did the VFF say that residential and commercial ratepayers should foot the bill for what the mayor calls a more generous rate discount for the farming community.

That is not a true representation of our position.

In fact, we could argue that the opposite is the case, and Wellington Shire Council is asking the farming community to foot the bill for a more generous rating system for the rest of the community.

The cold hard facts support this.

If you look at the graph printed, you can see how the average amount of rates paid per farm rate assessment is increasing at a much higher rate than the average residential rate assessment, and at a rate greatly exceeding the cap.

The VFF Gippsland branch also totally rejects the claim by the council that we misunderstand how the rating system works.

The suggestion is hurtful and is plain wrong, especially when we are running businesses and farm rates represent a significant cost to our operations.

In fact, it could be argued we understand this issue better than what the council appears to.

The VFF has done more to try and remedy the broken rating system than any other organisation, to ensure fairness and equity for all ratepayers.

Disappointingly, Wellington Shire Council is not taking responsibility for its decision to increase rates this year, instead blaming the valuations system.

The council has complete control over the amount demanded from ratepayers on the bottom of their rates notice.

The valuation is only the starting point for determining the amount of rates that any ratepayer pays; the rate in the dollar is set by the shire – and they have complete control over that.

The council’s constant blaming of the valuation system is no more than a convenient excuse for it not to live up to its responsibility of distributing the rate burden equitably across the shire under Section 3C(2)(f) if the Local Government Act’s objective to “ensure the equitable imposition of rates and charges”.

The council has many mechanisms available to it to make the rating system equitable, including through setting rates dynamically according to the changes in valuation for each class of property, or through the introduction of a municipal charge.

The VFF Gippsland Branch will continue to show Wellington Shire Council where it can make meaningful change.

Leadership starts at the top.

Local government is one of the leaders of the community, and in tough times they should be showing that leadership by exercising some thrift and financial discipline.

Let’s not forget that the council has only taken a very small cut in its gross revenue, while large sections of the community have taken huge hits to their revenue.

Why should the public sector be immune to the financial pain that the rest of the community is suffering?

After all, governments do not create wealth, they only consume it.