Liberal Member for Western Victoria, Simon Ramsay, has asked the Minister for Local Government, Natalie Hutchins, to intervene in Ararat Rural City Council deliberations over a proposal to strip farmers of their 55 per cent municipal rate differential.
Speaking in the Legislative Council on Wednesday, Mr Ramsay called on Ms Hutchins to delegate officers of the Local Government Inspectorate to oversee the council’s deliberations which arose from a proposal contained in the annual municipal budget papers.
Mr Ramsay told State Parliament that while farmers accounted for just 24 per cent of Ararat Rural City ratepayers, they already paid 34 per cent of the city’s rate revenues.
If the council adopts the proposal, farmers will pay more than half of all rates collected in that municipality.
“The reason I ask for this intervention is because it is very clear at the moment that landholders …in that district look like paying a very severe penalty for being farmers,” Mr Ramsay told State Parliament.
Mr Ramsay said the differential had been in place for several years, to provide equity across the ratepayer base and ease the burden of costs on farmers.
“But we are now seeing a basically urban council looking to remove that 55 per cent differential and have all ratepayers paying the general rate, which means an increase to that farming community of anywhere between $60 000 and $90 000 a year in rates,” Mr Ramsay said.
Mr Ramsay – who is deputy chairman of the Environment, Natural Resources and Regional Development Committee and a former president of the Victorian Farmers Federation – said he had been listening to the concerns farmers from the Ararat area since this issue first erupted at the start of May.
“I was at a meeting at Lake Bolac three weeks ago where 300 very angry farmers had banded together to put submissions to council to stop them removing the differential,” Mr Ramsay told parliament.
“There were 250 who attended a meeting last night, as well as 600 submissions and eight presentations to the council, all supporting the retention of the 55 per cent differential.
“My understanding is that the council is hell-bent on removing the differential so the rate burden costs will be spread right across the general community, but at a significant cost to local farmers.
“On that basis I ask for the intervention of the local government inspector to oversight the process that currently the Ararat Rural City Council is going through in relation to setting its rate structure for the coming year.”
Mr Ramsay said Labor’s preference for councils to escalate their revenues by annual property revaluations instead of actual rate rises, coupled with inevitable rises in the Fire Services Levy, will compound the financial burdens faced by landholders under the Andrews Government.
He said that the widespread use of Capital Improved Valuation rating in Victoria demanded that farmers would always have to make a disproportionate contribution to the revenues of municipalities in which they held land.
Mr Ramsay also urged all concerned farmers to make submissions to a parliamentary inquiry into the Sustainability and Operational Challenges of Victoria’s Rural and Regional Councils.
This inquiry is expected to commence shortly and will report to State Parliament next year.