Farmers rally to fight rate ‘threat’


MORNINGTON Peninsula farmers are gearing up to oppose any cut to the farm rate “discount” for agricultural land. They now pay 35 per cent of the general residential rate.

A message originating from Dromana farmer Cr David Gibb appears to have begun the rural mobilisation. It was prompted by Mornington Peninsula Shire’s planned review of its rating structure.

Cr Gibb emailed on 4 November: “The Farm rate for rural properties, many of whom are Landcare members, is under threat.”

The message went to the Dunns Creek Landcare Group, with which Cr Gibb is associated, which sent it to its membership with a message from the group’s president, Roger Stuart-Andrews.

His message read in part: “It appears the shire is seriously considering removing the rate rebate on farm properties which would mean that we would be rated as for the general non-rural properties…

“[Given] the size of some of our land holdings, this could potentially mean enormously increased rate bills for those of us on the land.”

Mr Stuart-Andrews described the shire review as “an iniquitous attack on landholders already fighting rising charges in every direction without a compensatory rise in income from the produce of our land”.

Farm properties pay the standard residential rate for the land on which the house is built – the curtilage – and a separate rate that is 35 per cent of the general residential rate.

The shire had a short community consultation on its rating review, inviting people to send “submissions for consideration in the development of council’s rating strategy”.

The original deadline, 9 November, was extended until 13 November in what appears to be a hurried process for such a major matter.

The shire document, Rating Strategy Discussion Paper 2016/17 says shire policy “supports the continuation of a farm rate differential” and notes that council’s strategic plan “has a strong commitment to agriculture”.

Victoria’s Valuation of Land Act defines farm land as “any rateable land … that is used primarily for grazing (including agistment), dairying, pig-farming, poultry-farming, fish-farming, tree-farming, bee-keeping, viticulture, horticulture, fruit-growing or the growing of crops of any kind or for any combination of those activities”.

It must be used by a business “that has a significant and substantial commercial purpose or character; and that seeks to make a profit on a continuous or repetitive basis from its activities on the land”.

Further, the business must be “making a profit from its activities on the land, or that has a reasonable prospect of making a profit from its activities on the land if it continues to operate in the way that it is operating”.

Part of council’s task in reviewing the farm rate will be to ensure that all those claiming it are eligible under the Act. Many “Collins St farmers” across Victoria use farm activities as low or negative income producers, to offset profits made in other income areas and thus reduce their overall tax bill.

The shire says that this year it has issued 962 farm house assessments, or 1.0 per cent of assessments, with a value of just under $450 million CIV, which will gather $1 million, or 0.8 per cent of total rate revenue in 2015-16.

Shire revenue from residential properties this year is $126 million, including $15.5 million from the municipal charge. Rates and charges will bring in just under $150 million, according to the shire.

The document indicates areas the shire is focusing on in its review. They include:

The Municipal Charge, currently $180.

Whether to introduce a waste/garbage/environment charge.

Current differentials, including the farm rate.

New differentials on commercial and industrial properties.

A review of land sustainability and heritage rate rebates.

The shire clearly indicates that it favours lifting rates on commercial and industrial properties for “a more equitable financial contribution”. Currently they pay the residential rate.

First published in the Southern Peninsula News – 17 November 2015


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