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Politicians fire up over Ararat rates

Ararat in danger of ‘artificial drought’ – David Jochinke

Rates opinion sought on Ararat rates plan
Farmers angry after Ararat council votes to scrap differential-rating system
Ararat mayor Paul Hooper pleads for community input

CONCERNS: Farmers and guests gather at Lake Bolac football clubrooms to discuss the impact of an Ararat Rural City Council plan to scrap a farm rate differential in favour of a uniform rate for the municipality. The decision has sparked an angry response from the Victorian Farmers Federation and Member for Lowan Emma Kealy.

CONCERNS: Farmers and guests gather at Lake Bolac football clubrooms to discuss the impact of an Ararat Rural City Council plan to scrap a farm rate differential in favour of a uniform rate for the municipality. The decision has sparked an angry response from the Victorian Farmers Federation and Member for Lowan Emma Kealy.


By DEAN LAWSON
An Ararat rates debate has attracted a heated response from Member for Lowan Emma Kealy who revealed she was exploring ways to help the regional city’s district farmers avoid a potentially crippling rise in costs.
Ms Kealy, whose electorate includes Ararat’s south and west farming districts, said it was unacceptable to expect farmers, who owned less than a quarter of rateable properties in the municipality, to take financial responsibility for more than half of the city’s rates.
“It’s just crazy. We’re talking about a sector that not only relies on land to make a living, but is also exposed to year-to-year climatic and environmental variables that can determine success or failure, let alone having to worry about human manipulation,” she said.
Ms Kealy was scathing of Ararat Rural City councillors who voted to adopt a uniform rate across the municipality by scrapping a farm rate differential.
“This is surely a case of councillors not understanding the potential impact this might have on communities outside Ararat,” she said.
“Agriculture is a primary regional economic driver for Ararat, which means this is a big-picture issue, not only for Ararat, but a region, and its viability into the future,” she said.
“If farmers don’t have money to spend because it has all gone to rates, it means that money isn’t being spent anywhere else to stimulate the district economy.
“It really comes across as a short-sighted council cash grab based on exploiting good farming conditions, when everyone knows another bad season might just be around the corner,” she said.
“It would be a terrible outcome if there were farmers who had to sell up because rates had broken their business.
“It’s just not fair to go from a rates differential of 55 percent to 100 percent in one hit when there is no change to service delivery in the region.”
Ms Kealy said she had already been in touch with the Office of the Victorian Ombudsman, which was interested in receiving submissions to see if the Ararat decision-making process was flawed, if there were any conflicts of interest or whether the rate rise for farmers was simply unjustifiable. She added it might also be an issue for the Local Government Investigation and Compliance Inspectorate, which plays a key role in monitoring governance in Victorian councils.
“We have to also remember that an additional hit for local landowners comes in Labor’s new policy to have annual property revaluations,” she said.
“Additional increases in property values will further compound rate-rise pain.”
Ramsay
Liberal Member for Western Victoria Simon Ramsay said he believed potential scrapping of farm differential rating in Ararat could be disastrous and a test case for Victoria.
Mr Ramsay, among observers at a Lake Bolac meeting about the issue last week, said he would closely watch how it unfolded.
He said the 55 percent rate differential had been in place for many years for good reason.
“Farms represent just 24 percent of rateable properties in the shire, but already pay 38 percent of the rates. Under this proposal, they will pay 55 percent of the rate income,” he said.
The Ararat council has, as part of its draft rating strategy, voted to ask farmers to pay 46 percent more for rates next year – at a value of $2,432,665 – while all other ratepayers will pay less.
Mr Ramsay said the Ararat council faced challenges because it was ‘administratively top-heavy’ and home to a low socio-economic population with an average income of about $38,000.
“The Andrews government’s introduction of rate capping is forcing councils, such as Ararat, to re-think how they do business,” he said. “This is another example of the impact of government policy and intrusion.”
Mr Ramsay is a member of a State Parliament Environment, Natural Resources and Regional Development Committee working on an Inquiry into the Sustainability and Operational Challenges of Victoria’s Rural and Regional Councils.
“Through this budget proposal, the council is effectively shining the state’s spotlight on itself,” he said.
“It will be questioned about why these changes are proposed and what the long-term ramifications are.
“I suspect from the committee’s point of view, Ararat’s change raises questions about how to establish a longer-term sustainable funding model for small rural and regional councils.
“As it stands – this proposal appears unfair and inequitable to the farming community. Imagine the financial stress on farmers in times of drought, flood, fire or commodity upheaval?”

The entire May 31, 2017 edition of AgLife is available online. READ IT HERE!

The entire May 31, 2017 edition of The Weekly Advertiser is available online. READ IT HERE!

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Posted on May 31 2017

Posted by on May 31 2017. Filed under Agriculture, News. You can follow any responses to this entry through the RSS 2.0. You can leave a response or trackback to this entry

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