Wellington Shire Council has responded to the Victorian Farmer’s Federation suggestion that residential and commercial ratepayers should foot the bill for a more generous rates discount to farmers.
Council has provided a 20% rate discount for local farmers for around 20 years and continues to do so.
The VFF last week told local media that Wellington Shire Council was increasing farming rates by 11.58% this financial year and suggested Council was not doing enough to assist struggling farmers.
Council in fact approved its 2020/21 Budget this week, which included a 0% rate rise.
This means that Council will receive the same amount of revenue from rate-payers in the next year as it did in 2019/20. This will not increase.
Wellington Shire Council Mayor Alan Hall said how much individual landowners paid for their Council rates depended on the valuation of their properties, which was conducted annually by the State Government Valuer General, not Council officers or Councillors.
“This year, rural properties have seen a significant increase in land value from the Valuer General. This is despite the drought,COVID-19 and other stresses landholders have had,” he said.
“So while it may be good news for farmers that their properties are now worth a lot more, it means that even when Council holds the rate in the dollar to zero – some property classes might pay a bit more and others a bit less based on how their valuations have moved. Many commercial properties, for example, should see an actual rate decrease this year as valuations in this sector has been relatively flat.
“In previous years, commercial valuations have gone up which means their rates went up, while farming property values went down, giving farmers a reprieve.”
Overall, Council will collect the same amount of rate dollars as it did last year.
Cr Hall said that while Council had worked very closely with the local farming community to assist them during the impacts of the drought,it recognised that many farms would be faced with a higher rate bill based on their higher property valuation.
“Wellington has already had a 20% rate discount in place for farmers for about 20 years,” he said.
“The Victorian Farmers Federation want us to increase this discount this year to compensate for their higher property values, but that would mean transferring more of the rate burden onto other sectors or cutting back community services, something we were not prepared to do this year.
“With Council receiving no additional rate income this year,we will already need to make some cuts, but we believe our whole community will welcome this as we tighten our belts in this tough time.
“We will continue to work with and support our vital farming community, but do not believe it is time to give them a bigger rate discount over and above every other ratepayer in the community who are also struggling.
“Other sectors now need extra help as well, and to this end we have allocated $500,000 in the new budget towards direct small business support throughout the shire,” he said.