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    Victoria Farmers Federation president Emma Germano.

VFF rates reaction positive

Victoria’s farming peak body has welcomed a proposed change to the way local government values farmland when assessing local government rate charges.

Victorian Farming Federation president Emma Germano said a State Government commitment to introduce a valuation-averaging mechanism by 2022 would help reduce an annual ‘rates shock’ that many farmers faced.

She made the comments after a State Government response to a Local Government Rating System Review.

“A key recommendation the VFF made to the review was to see some sort of valuation-averaging mechanism brought into the rates system,” she said.

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“Many farmers across the state, particularly in the Western District, have seen their land double in value within the space of three years. This has created uncertainty for farm businesses because you have no idea how much your rate bill is going to be next year.

“The government’s commitment to this change is a win for farmers and we look forward to assisting with its implementation.”

Ms Germano, however, expressed disappointment at some of the report findings, including a suggestion the rating system was appropriate and that farmers paid less in rates than other businesses.

“The review has done nothing to address the inequity between rural and metropolitan ratepayers,” she said.

“Country Victorians pay more in rates than people in the city as both a proportion of their income and the value of their property. 

“Until this fundamental inequity in the system is addressed, it will remain broken.

“The rating review has also completely disregarded the fact farmers pay rates across multiple assessments by comparing the rates paid by farm assessments and other commercial assessments.

“The data used in the report is comparing apples and oranges and the assertion that farmers don’t pay more in rates is blatantly wrong.”

Council control

Ms Germano said the VFF would continue to focus on individual councils and their rating plans moving into 2021.

“The government has made it abundantly clear that councils have a lot of control over how they set their rates,” she said.

“It is no longer good enough for councils to shift blame back onto the State Government when farmers voice concerns about unfair rate increases.

“There are a number of mechanisms councils can use to strike a fairer rating burden, including the use of differential rates and the municipal charge. 

“Where councils refuse to do the right thing, the VFF will be ready to help farming communities take action at a local level.”

The review assessed the fairness and equity of the rates system and recommended improvements.  Local Government Minister Shaun Leane said he backed the examination by a three-member panel, which concluded the rating system aligned with many principles that underpinned sound revenue management and highlighted more could be done to help people who were struggling. 

He said the government response would support ratepayers in financial hardship, improve transparency and consistent decision-making across councils, and build a fairer system. 

The government will adopt 36 of the review’s 56 recommendations in full, in part or in principle.

Mr Leane said apart from valuation-averaging and better supporting people who struggled to pay rates, the government would also pursue reforms to system administration and give councils improved tools for waste charges, special rate and charge schemes and more flexible rate concessions. 

He said enhanced transparency and community engagement requirements in the Local Government Act 2020 would support the implementation of the reforms. 

Mr Leane has also announced a Fair Go Rates Cap for 2021-22 would be set at 1.5 percent – the forecast Consumer Price Index for the period. The rate cap places a limit on the increase in the total amount of revenue raised by councils through rates each year.

The entire December 23, 2020 edition of The Weekly Advertiser is available online. READ IT HERE!

The entire December 23, 2020 edition of AgLife is available online. READ IT HERE!