THE Victorian Farmers Federation (VFF) has welcomed state government moves to introduce a fairer municipal rating system for rural properties.
An amendment brought to Parliament yesterday by Local Government Minister Jeanette Powell attempts to clarify the complexity of rating where farmers are on a different system to residential property owners.
Her amendment also seeks to tighten up complaint processes about council chief executives, costs in councillor misconduct hearings and campaign donations.
VFF president Peter Tuohey said the existing rating system was “grossly” unfair.
“Generally farmers are paying three to five times the rates of a comparable business with a similar income in an urban part of the municipality. Having a rates bill of $15,000 to $20,000 is a big hit on farmers and there’s a huge difference in the municipal service level they are provided with,” Mr Tuohey said.
Ms Powell said there was a complex web across the state with 39 councils having four or more differential rates, six having at least 10 and 14 councils having no differential.
“Some differential rates are only applied to a small number of properties, with 36 councils having differential rates that apply to less than 30 properties,” she said. Mr Tuohey said one-in-four of Victoria’s 48 rural and regional shire councils rate farmland using the same or higher differential than residential land.
“Hopefully, Ms Powell’s announcement means we can get some balance and consistency back into the rating system so all farmers get a fair go,” he said.
“There is no simple solution. A review really needs to be done on a shire by shire basis to get consistency across the state.”
There will be a six-month public consultation process on the new guidelines before councils determine their budget for 2013. Ms Powell’s amendment will require councils to disclose all election campaign donations received by candidates in money or in kind valued at $500 or more.
“The bill also includes amendments to provide for a probity auditor to oversee handling of a complaint about the conduct of a chief executive ... and will also reduce the incidence of councils having to pay the legal costs of councillors in VCAT misconduct hearings,” Ms Powell said.
“A council will only be liable for a councillor’s costs when the council is the applicant in VCAT or has requested to become a party. A council will not be liable for costs when an individual councillor has applied for the matter to go to VCAT.”