WIMMERA farmers are disappointed by Horsham Rural City Council’s decision to not alleviate the rates burden on the farming sector.
The council adopted its Budget and rates strategy for the 2018-19 financial year at a special meeting on Monday night.
The meeting was attended by about 100 residents.
Horsham’s budget rose all average rates to the capped increase of 2.25 per cent. However, residential rates were decreased by 0.6 per cent, while farm rates increased by 11.8 per cent.
Councillor David Grimble moved a motion for rates to increase by 2.25 per cent across all categories – industrial, agricultural, residential and commercial. The motion aligned with Northern Grampians Shire Council’s decision made earlier that day to balance the rates burden across all sectors.
Cr Grimble said his motion was to achieve a “fair and equitable” rate distribution across the municipality.
“I wanted the council officers to go back and consider what I had done and I believe what it would have presented would be a fair and equitable rate distribution,” he said.
“It’s a statewide issue and it was a clear opportunity for this council to show some leadership and provide the community with support through what is a difficult time.
“I think if we asked anyone in the community, do they think it’s a fair proposition that everyone pays 2.25 per cent this year while council resolved other issues? I think I know the answer to that.”
Cr Grimble, Josh Koenig and John Robinson voted in favour of the motion while Mayor Pam Clarke, Cr Les Power and Mark Radford voted against. Cr Alethea Gulvin was absent. Cr Clarke had the deciding vote, which defeated the motion.
Cr Robinson moved a motion for council to reduce expenditure to achieve a zero percentage increase in the rate burden from the 2017-18 Budget to the current Budget. He said councillors could not leave without making the rates distribution equitable.
Cr Grimble and Robinson voted for the motion while Cr Koenig, Power, Radford and Clarke voted against.
Cr Radford moved to adopt the proposed 2018-19 budget and rates strategy.
Horsham Rural City Council mayor Pam Clarke said the council sought legal advice that stated it would be defying the Local Government Act and would be taken to Victorian Supreme Court if the motion was accepted.
“We have to be careful to comply with the act’s requirements – that is very hard for people to understand,” she said.
“Council cannot make a lot of decisions that we would like to because we have to comply with state government legislation.”
Cr Clarke said the budget was not the deal she would have liked to pass, but council did not have time to make changes.
“I have great sympathy for farmers. The rate system is definitely flawed but it’s a system we are stuck with,” she said.
“We have committed to doing a full rate review (for the next budget) and look at how the rate system is impacting farmers this year with massive hikes in farm valuations."
While Northern Grampians Shire Council passed a motion similar to Cr Grimble’s defeated motion, Cr Clarke believed they were “running the gauntlet.”
Victorian Farmers Federation president David Jochinke said farmers were “severely disappointed” that the council passed a budget that burdened the rural sector.
“We’re bemused that we have to tell councillors that a 12 per cent increase, while another sector gets a decrease, is unfair,” he said.
“Every councillor attended a Kalkee consultation meeting prior to the budget being released and the rural community clearly stated they want the rate increase to be capped at the category.”
Mr Jochinke said it was the council’s prerogative to make decisions and the farmers’ federation respects that, but they would be appealing to Local Government Minister Marlene Kairouz.
“We will be appealing to the minister to not only champion what Northern Grampians Shire have done,” he said.
“They showed great leadership – but highlight the fact that councillors aren’t actively managing the burden of rates, even after clearly saying they believe the rates system is broken.”
McKenzie Creek Farmer Neville McIntyre said farmers were pushing for rates to increase by 2.25 per cent across all categories since the rates cap was announced. He said the council were given enough time to consider the option.
“They were asked back in March at a meeting in Kalkee and I put in a submission early on. Council had plenty of time to look at that, discuss it and produce figures on it – they choose not to do that,” he said.