Council rates are emerging as the key issue for farmers ahead of next month’s State Government election, according to the state's farmers.
Ararat crop, beef and sheep producer Sam King said rates were the number one concern.
In Victoria, primary producers have been hit with a sharp spike in rates following a state-wide land revaluation.
“As far as I am concerned, it’s the only issue,” Mr King said.
“There are lots of other issues in regional and rural Australia that warrant government assistance and investigation. Some people have issues with water, some have issues with telecommunications, and for some it’s roads – but we’ve all got rates.
“It’s the big one governments keep turning a blind eye towards.”
Mr King said he was part of a strategy advisory group, set up after a revolt over plans by the Ararat council to abolish differential rates for farmers, just over 12 months ago.
“We went through a time when we lost 100 per cent of our cereal crops to frost. It was also the same time when our council, in its wisdom, decided to take the rating differential for farmland from 55pc to 100pc,” he said.
“They keep saying a differential rating system is a discount – it’s far from a discount.
“It’s a tool put out by the Municipal Association of Victoria and the State Government to make rates fair and equitable.”
Victorian Farmers Federation president David Jochinke said members had shown significant interest in changing the rating system.
“Members are just backing our claims; it is one of the primary election issues,” Mr Jochinke said.
“The whole system we have got has to be totally demolished so that we can build up a new one.”
He said the VFF had told all sides of politics that farmers wanted a moratorium on future rates increases.
They also needed to commit to comprehensive changes to the way the rating system operated and to look at the sustainability of local government.
“We have some principals, we think are very sound, and our members are very keen to be part of the process, as well,” he said.
Balliang crop grower Chris Sharkey said he had properties rated by both Moorabool shire and the City of Greater Geelong. He said the rates he paid to Geelong were lower than those levied by Moorabool.
In Geelong, properties classified as working commercial farms were eligible for a 40 per cent rebate.
The council states on its website it has a Farm Differential Rate and Rebate to encourage the retention of large lot primary production holdings, where a commercial farm business is being conducted.
“We have used a combination of differential tariff and rebate to maintain the status of farms as the lowest rated tariff group,” the statement said.
“The farm differential intended to recognise the lower demand on council services.
“This takes into account low economic return to large landholdings, avoiding distortions in the market or an ability to contribute above the standard charge.”
Moorabool had a rating differential of 78pc, which hadn’t changed for some years.
He said while his rate burden was not particularly onerous this year, the drought would cut into his production.
“It’s at a stage where we are struggling,” Mr Shareky said.
“We haven’t had any frosts but we haven’t had any rain either.
“It looks green but there’s no feed for the sheep.”
He agreed rates were his number one election issue.
“In the first year, the new government needs to have some really good, clear ideas on how to fix it, and fix it quickly,” he said.
Streatham crop farmer Anthony Mulcahy recently found his rates bill, from Pyrenees Shire, went up more than 50pc. He has properties in four shires, with increases ranging from 11pc in Ararat, 16pc in Moyne, 37pc in Corangamite and 52pc in the Pyrenees.
“I’m used to rate rises but 52pc was a bit of a shock,” Mr Mulcahy said.
He said dry conditions this year would eat into his production, following frost damaged crop losses last year.
“As farmers, we would like to see some return; we are certainly not getting that from our rates, we have poor roads and live a long way from towns,” he said.
Mr Mulcahy said he intended to challenge some of the rate notices.
“I want to see some evidence of local land sales that can back up their increase in valuations,” he said.
“It’s a statewide problem, and it needs a total overhaul. It’s not fair, and it doesn’t work.”
Local Government minister Marlene Kairouz said the Fair Go Rates system provided a cap on the increase of the total amount of rates raised by councils.
“I expect councils to ensure that their rating strategies and budgets are developed in consultation with ratepayers and they should consider the impact of rates on the entire community,” Ms Kairouz said.
National Party leader Peter Walsh told this year’s VFF conference he didn’t believe councils used all the tools they had at their disposal.
“Daniel Andrews’ poorly implemented rates cap has been anything but a ‘fair go’ for some farmers, pushing up council rates at a time when they can least afford it,” Mr Walsh said.
“We know it’s put some farmers under pressure
“We’ll continue working with them, and our rural communities, towards a more equitable rating system.”