Eastern Victorian farmers to get rate relief

Eastern Victorian farmers to get rate relief

Agribusiness
DROUGHT FUNDING: Agriculture Minister Jaclyn Symes and Premier Daniel Andrews with Bairnsdale producer Trevor Caithness during a visit to East Gippsland in October.

DROUGHT FUNDING: Agriculture Minister Jaclyn Symes and Premier Daniel Andrews with Bairnsdale producer Trevor Caithness during a visit to East Gippsland in October.

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Farmers in eastern Victoria are set to receive a discount on their council rates.

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Rate relief is on its way for hundreds of farmers in eastern Victoria after two councils voted to to subsidise farmers' rates notices.

East Gippsland's council voted on Tuesday to allocate $1.51 million in drought funding from the state government to partially cover the cost 1600 farmers' rates bills in the municipality.

A week earlier, Wellington Shire Council, which borders East Gippsland, voted to use the $3.31 million it had received in taxpayer money to cover about 30 per cent of the council's farm rates.

The funding was handed to the councils during a visit from Premier Daniel Andrews and Agriculture Minister Jaclyn Symes in October as part of a $31 million drought strategy by the state government.

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Victorian Farmers Federation president David Jochinke, who lobbied both councils to offset the cost of farmers' rates, praised the "common sense" approach.

"This will be absolutely beneficial to all the farmers in these regions," Mr Jochinke told Stock & Land.

"Rates are a tax or a levy ... on the property, on the tools, on the core asset that farmers need to run their businesses and this is a cost that can't be shifted and in times of drought those fixed costs are the ones that are the hardest to manage.

"That's because there's nothing in your power, nothing you can do as an individual farmer to manage that cost ... so it's a great outcome for everyone."

The rate relief is expected to provide financial ease on 6500 properties between the two municipalities and will be credited in farmers' rates notices for the 2019/20 financial year.

East Gippsland Shire Council mayor John White, who runs a mixed sheep, beef and cropping operation, said the decision for rate relief was needed was clear.

"It's gives farmers the knowledge now that they may get $500, $600 or $2000 off their rate bill and that will take pressure off the savings towards that," Mr White said.

"I'm absolutely certain because of the fact we're still in drought that that money is going to come into the towns and be circulated so that they can pay their bills that they've had in the rack for sometime."

Mr White said many parts of East Gippsland were dry after limited rainfall across sections of eastern Victoria.

"Some areas are better ... but the coastal fringe is just brown with no length in the dry grass," he said.

"So there's about 3000 properties that will be covered for farm relief, but the actual number of farmers owning those properties is about 1600 ... and many of them are still supplementary feeding so this will go a long way.

"One of the biggest issues down here is that the dams that dried out last autumn failed to get much water during the winter because there was no run-off and that small amount of water we did have has evaporated due to the hot October we had."

Mildura Council - which received $700,000 during the state government announcement - is yet to determine how it will spend the money.

Gippsland Farmer Relief, which provides food hampers and back-to-school supplies to farmers in need, said demand for help had quadrupled in the last quarter.

"We're supporting 155 families on a monthly basis and a majority of those are in the East Gippsland, Wellington and Yarram areas," GFR chief executive Melissa Ferguson said.

"We've had farmers whose food cupboards are empty and people who are walking off the land so rate relief will take pressure off household costs, allowing them to spend their money wisely."

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