More than 250 farmers from across the Ararat Rural City municipality came out in force on Tuesday night to protest a move that could see their rates almost double.
At a special meeting in May, councillors voted 4-3 to abolish differential rates for non-residential property, potentially creating a major rise in the rates for agricultural land, which is currently charged at 55 per cent of the residential rate.
The suggested options put forward by council officers had been retaining the 55 per cent differential rate or increasing it to 75 per cent, meaning residents did not view the abolition option prior to the meeting.
Council received 698 submissions in regards to the rate changes, with 44 people addressing Tuesday night’s meeting.
Among those was Victorian Farmers Federation president David Jochinke, of Murra Warra, who described the move as a “wealth tax” given land represented the major financial asset for those in the agriculture industry.
“There is a complete disillusionment with the way farmers are being treated,” he said. “If these councillors were serious it should have been put as an option in the working document.”
Ararat mayor Paul Hooper said while it was too early to say how council would ultimately vote on the issue, councillors would have to take the “huge outpouring of emotion” into consideration.
With about 450 farming enterprises, agriculture makes up the largest industry in the municipality.
Cr Hooper was one of three councillors who opposed the abolition of differential rates at the May meeting.
“A large portion of the criticism that was directed to council is that it wasn't workshopped and appeared out of the blue,” Cr Hooper said.
“It was an incredibly powerful message and I’m sure the councillors who proposed it will have plenty to think about.”
Under the current differential rates system, shops are required to pay 160 per cent of the residential rate, while factories pay 130 per cent.
Cr Glenda McLean, who was one of the initial proponents of the abolition at the May meeting, said councillors had a responsibility to ensure the burden of rates was shared equitably.
“Ararat’s differential is seen to be the most generous to farmers in the state and my question is whether it’s fair on the rest of our ratepayers,” Cr McLean said.
A final decision is due on June 27.