Farmers across several generations, including Phillip Island’s John Dixon, Bill Cleeland and Dougal Cameron, are satisfied Bass Coast Shire Council has finally offered farmers a fairer go when it comes to rates.
AFTER six long years, the ongoing stalemate between Bass Coast Shire Council and the farming community over fairer rates looks to be over.
A crowd of farmers left last week’s council meeting at Cowes with huge smiles on their faces, shaking hands and patting each other on the back after councillors agreed to adopt a new rating strategy which will see rates for the farming sector discounted by 20 per cent.
However, the reduction isn’t immediate – the change won’t be implemented until the 2016/17 financial year.
Ultimately, the differential rate will shift around $700,000 to other ratepayers, with the average property owner to receive a $23 increase to their annual rates bill.
Surf Beach farmer Bill Cleeland – a man who has been at the forefront of the rates campaign both as a member and former president of the Victorian Farmers’ Federation Bass Coast branch – said he was pleased, but more work needs to be done
“I think it needs to go further,” he said.
“South Gippsland (council) is already moving to a 70 per cent differential rate (30 per cent discount).
“We’re happy we’ve come this far, we thank council for making this decision and we look forward to working with them into the future.”
Another farmer Graham Wood, owner of properties in Grantville and Bass, said the introduction of a differential rate should be viewed as a first step towards greater reductions for the farming sector.
“I think it’s the best outcome we could have expected at this first stage,” he said.
The general comment from other local farmers was that the 20 per cent discount is “a start”.
The council received 31 submissions when it called for public comment on both the rating strategy and long-term financial plan.
The majority of these came from the farming community, with the general consensus being that Bass Coast should offer farmers a discount of between 10 and 40 per cent.
Cr Bradley Drew said councillors “certainly heard farmers loud and clear”.
“But it’s not just about rates – we also need to be more flexible so we can assist (farmers) in continuing to move forward,” Cr Drew said.
“We need to make sure farming remains viable and sustainable in the long-term.
“A differential rate is the first step forward.”
Cr Clare Le Serve, who has been pushing hardest for a farm differential since she was elected in 2012, said it was important to remember that calls for a discount to farmers’ rates bills didn’t just come from the farming sector.
“As I’ve been told by others in the community, and as has been reflected in some of the submissions we received, people like the green amenity provided across Bass Coast,” she said.
“They value why they live in the country.
“The lobby for a differential rate hasn’t just come from the farmers; this has come from the community saying we like the paddocks and all the farms around us.”
Cr Le Serve also said she was pleased the shire’s Land Management Rebate Scheme had been retained going forward.
Cr Kimberley Brown said it was evident through the consultation process for the rating strategy that the amenity provided to the community by the farming sector and the positive impact on lifestyle and tourism is valued.
“Providing a differential rate for the farming sector would contribute to protection of rural landscape and amenity, whilst also providing direct support for the agricultural sector which is an important economic driver in the community,” she said.
“Additionally, benchmarking we’ve undertaken shows that a farm differential is a common approach taken by other rural councils.”
The new rating strategy also includes a general rate and a waste service charge, making the farm differential rate the only change to previous years.
“Whilst the introduction of an environment service charge, as identified in the discussion paper, is not proposed at this time, the strategy does support such a charge in principal,” Cr Brown said.
“Accordingly, the rating strategy proposes that the introduction of this charge be considered during the preparation of the 2016/17 Council Budget.”
The introduction of a municipal charge – an idea which was floated as part of the five rating strategy options presented to the community – has been scrapped.
The report presented at last week’s council meeting stated: “such a charge is difficult to quantify and would have the impact of shifting rates from higher valued properties to lower valued properties.
“Further, the consultation process did not establish a clear view on the potential introduction of such a charge.”