Farmers fire up over differential rate debate

Tuesday May 23 2017

OUTRAGED farmers are calling for Ararat Rural City Council to immediately reinstate farm differential rates after city leaders last week controversially voted 4-3 to abolish differential rates.

More than 150 local farmers last night crammed into the Lake Bolac Netball Club at a Victorian Farmers Federation meeting to vent their anger at the shock decision to ask primary producers to pay 100 percent of a residential rate based on property values.

Two proposals were put to Council for consideration at the May 16 meeting, one suggesting the farm differential rate remain at 55 per cent and the other recommending a rate rise to 75 per cent.

The first proposal was reportedly voted down before Council accepted a motion from the floor to abolish differential rates altogether.

VFF President David Jochinke said farmers had grave concerns about the governance of the Council and the farmer group would write to local government minister Natalie Hutchins to sort out the mess.

“Both proposals that were considered by Council were put up for public consultation and many farmers took a strong interest in the process,” he said.

“Four councillors voted to scrap differential rates after agreeing last year to keep the rate at 55 per cent, so we need to ask why they changed their positions, what the strategy is and even if the councillors understand their obligations for fit governance.”

Statistics from the Ararat Council show last year farms made up 24 per cent of ratepayers in the region and the proportion of the overall rates burden paid by farmers was already a significant 38 per cent.

Council documents also revealed the original proposals to raise the differential rate were ‘at the expense of the farming sector’ before abolition was discussed.

“This is not a land tax; it’s a tax on businesses in the region and impacts families. In reality, the Council is proposing to take $2.4m out of the economy and into its pockets, hurting farming suppliers and service providers in the general community Mr Jochinke said.

“It is impossible for farmers to pass on increases, which is something Council has recognised in the past and the whole point of the rates capping system is to give everyone a fair go, so there is a lot of frustration and anger in the Ararat community around this decision.”

Mr Jochinke urged local farmers to visit before Friday June 2, 2017 and lodge their own submission to reverse the Council’s decision.

“It is an absolute disgrace that the Council would vote to disadvantage the local farming community when the Council recognises agriculture as one of the region’s key economic drivers,” he said.

Media Contacts:
David Jochinke, VFF President: 0427 834 524
Ashley Mackinnon, VFF Public Affairs Officer: 0417 165 784