BASS Coast farmers shouldn’t get their hopes up of enjoying any rates relief in 2014/15.
Ahead of details revealed in South Gippsland Shire Council’s proposed rating strategy earlier this month – which proposes to set farm rates in that region at 70 per cent of the general rate – Bass Coast doesn’t appear to be following suit – at least not yet.
Leadbeater ward councillor Clare Le Serve – who, last November, urged her colleagues to look at introducing a differential rate as part of the shire’s rating strategy – said she was “hopeful, but not confident” a differential rate will be proposed in the near future.
“We’re really keen to try and resolve it,” Cr Le Serve said.
“Council has certainly discussed it and we’ve read about South Gippsland’s (approach) in the papers.”
She said there was discussion about Bass Coast’s rating strategy at last week’s Victorian Farmers’ Federation meeting in Kilcunda, which she attended alongside Mayor Neil Rankine.
“The VFF have agreed to write a letter to council expressing their concerns and desire to have a differential rate,” she continued.
“But there are a number of different models we need to look at.
“It’s also something that needs to be fully explained to the wider community.
“Council’s director of corporate services, Steven Piasente, is currently looking at strategies other councils have used.”
Asked whether Bass Coast’s rural sector could expect a differential rate similar to South Gippsland (70 per cent), Cr Le Serve said she hopes the difference would be more substantial, citing discussions with farmers who have indicated they would like a drop to 30 per cent.
“I would like to see it get to (30 per cent),” she said.
“But that would mean we’d have to find that money from somewhere else.
“It’s not easy to resolve this in an equitable manner.”
‘The system is broken’
Glen Alvie beef farmer and president of the Bass Coast VFF branch, Neville Chapman, said an entire overhaul of the local government rating system is needed.
“There has been a lot of talk in the past few weeks about beef prices rising to the point they were at 25 years ago, but there’s not a lot to get excited about when, during that time, our rates have gone up four-fold,” Mr Chapman said.
“Even if a differential rate is introduced in Bass Coast, the system will still be broken.”
“The shire wants us to maintain farmland so they can look at it without it being a cost to them.
“Well, you can’t have your cake and eat it to.”
A member of Bass Coast’s Rural Engagement Group – a collective formed last year with a goal to come up with solutions for the shire’s rural sector – Mr Chapman owns 460 acres at the northern end of Glen Alvie.
To remain viable, he hoped to have been able to subdivide small portions of his land, but several overlays prevent him from doing so.
He said he has requested the council to undertake a review of all rateable farming properties across the shire, with an end goal of devising a model for farms where properties only pay rates for their house and curtilage.
Under this model, the capital improved value of a property would be calculated just from the farmhouse and land immediately surrounding it (much like traditional front and back yard), resulting in farmers paying rates similar to that of residential landowners.
“I know that’s probably not going to happen, but that would be the starting point of our argument,” Mr Chapman added.
“If farmland is going to be kept, it has to be profitable, and the current system isn’t allowing that.”
While he remains steadfast in the belief that the introduction of a differential rate in Bass Coast won’t solve everything, Mr Chapman indicated that he and many other farmers would be left unimpressed if Bass Coast followed South Gippsland’s lead and proposed a 70 per cent differential rate.
“That would be like peeing in the ocean and saying ‘look, we’ve made a difference’,” he said.