The toxic issue of council rates has boiled over in recent weeks because several councils are looking to slug farmers with higher rates.
Farmers are already faced with an unfair burden because farmland is a means of production and its value bears little relationship to the farmers’ wealth or their capacity to pay.
But when services like Airbnb have made it possible for anyone to make money from their property, saying that farmers should be taxed more on their land because it’s a productive asset is unreasonable.
You can’t assume that a farmer sitting on a large block of land is making a profit.
Farms have increased in size just to remain viable and this has compounded the rating burden.
This issue is likely to come to a head within the next few weeks, as Ararat and Gannawarra councils both take a vote on whether to adopt a uniform rating system.
For Ararat farmers, this means rates will skyrocket by 45 per cent.
For Gannawarra, a still significant 25 per cent rise over four years.
The real concern is that if these councils both succeed in forcing a change to a uniform rating system, the floodgates could open for other councils to make their own move.
Victorian Farmers Federation analysis shows that in the 2014/15 financial year farmers paid on average over $4000 more for their businesses than shops, cafes and other local businesses.
This was simply due to the model of striking rates based on land valuations.
It is becoming impossible for farmers to pass on increases, especially when they don’t receive the same benefits for their rates as other businesses.
This is causing a lot of frustration and anger in rural communities.
The VFF has put to Premier Daniel Andrews and his Local Government Minister Natalie Hutchins that a fairer solution would be to charge municipal rates only on the house and curtilage on a farmer’s land.
As farmers, we carry the greatest rate burden in regional Victoria, because we own more than 60 per cent of the state’s land.
Forcing farmers to pay an ever increasing share of the rate burden isn’t sustainable and in some cases is driving farmers off some of the state’s most valuable agricultural land.