IN ALL the hullabaloo around the sacking of the South Gippsland Shire Council last month, the rights of 37 shire ratepayers have been trampled on by the old council.
And it looks as if the new Administrator, Julie Eisenbise, is set to compound the injustice.
At issue is a motion before Ms Eisenbise at this Wednesday’s council meeting to adopt the Rating Strategy 2019-20 and with it a recommendation to abolish the Rural Residential zone category.
At the same time the Administrator is being asked to slash the rates paid by 212 Vacant Rural Land owners by a total of $168,000 with the rest of us picking up the tab.
Such a move would immediately drive up the rates of 37 former Rural Residential property owners by around $2500-a-year, every year.
It’s a bitter pill that local cattleman and Nerrena resident Bill Egan isn’t prepared to swallow, especially since he’s had no opportunity to challenge the decision.
“I got a phone call from a representative of the shire last Wednesday giving me the ‘heads up’ that this might happen, saying there was a letter to follow on Friday,” Mr Egan said.
“The letter was there on the kitchen table last Friday when I got home from work advising me what the council was intending to do. It’s totally unacceptable.”
Mr Egan said he hadn’t been in touch with the other 36 owners of Rural Residential property in the shire, but he guessed they would have been similarly shocked by what the shire was intending to do.
“Normally you’d be able to phone up your local councillor and see if they would be prepared to make representations on your behalf but what do we do now?
“I’ve got family and work commitments this Wednesday so, I can’t make it into the council at short notice to have my say.
“Under the circumstances, where the council has just been sacked, I think they should retain the status quo where rates policy is concerned and wait until a new council is elected.
“It’s simply a denial of natural justice to be accepting these changes now.”
Mr Egan said he used his 19-hectare property as a genuine farming enterprise, complementary to the work he did as a founding director and manager of Stevens Egan and Johnston, a local stock and station firm.
“I’ve got 50 quality beef cattle here at the moment, cattle that are set to be sold to Coles.
“It’s not a pet cow and three or four-horse operation. I am GST registered as a primary producer. But there’s a whole range of agricultural pursuits you could carry out on 20 hectares; growing veggies, garlic, raising cattle, whatever and if you’re having a crack (as a farmer) you shouldn’t be penalised.
“We’re well out of town, in Nerrena, on a property that’s never going to be further subdivided and used for residential.”
Mr Egan said he would be happy to see his property, where he has lived for 25 years, rezoned to ‘Farming’, but not reverting to the General rate category and copping a 30 per cent increase.
“They’ll have to deal with these properties case by case because they’re all different. It’s just a lazy grab for money abolishing a whole category and absorbing them into the General rate category.”
The Rural Residential category was created in 2015 when a single submission was received from a farmer with land of more than 18.3ha who wished to receive the ‘Farming’ differential of 70 per cent of the General rate. That submission came from Dollar resident Frank Oostermeyer, also an unsuccessful candidate at the 2016 council elections.
He is due to speak prior to Wednesday’s council meeting. Legal advice at the time recommended adopting a separate and distinct category for the type of land in question. Such land was then characterised as Rural Residential and represents properties between 18.30 and 20 hectares. There are 37 such properties in the shire and it is estimated the change back to 100 per cent of the General rate will shift a total of $34,000 on to these property owners.
Their rates could actually go up by more than 30 per cent this year if there has been a revaluation up in smaller acreage rural properties.
The only other significant change proposed to the South Gippsland Shire Council’s new rating strategy this Wednesday is the introduction of a new Vacant Rural Land category, which will result in 212 vacant rural properties moved out of the Vacant Land category where a differential of 200 per cent applies, i.e. double the General rate, with a new differential of 90 per cent to be levied delivering an estimated reduction in rates of $168,000 to be covered by other classes of ratepayers.