HORSHAM Rural City Council will review its rates strategy.
At the council’s August meeting on Monday night, councillors moved a motion to allow the formation of a Rates Strategy Advisory Committee.
In the council’s 2018-19 Budget, rates rose, on average, to the capped increase of 2.25 per cent. But a breakdown shows residential rates decreased by 0.6 per cent, while farm rates increased by 11.8 per cent.
Crs David Grimble and John Robinson agreed the review would be a band-aid fix.
“It’s important that we do this rate review properly, otherwise we could end up with something that could be unsatisfactory for another sector,” Cr Grimble said.
“The current rating strategy is completely inequitable.
“This will be a significant opportunity to fix some of the faults of the past.”
He said it wouldn’t ease current concerns.
“I encourage farmers to continue to talk to councillors and the Victorian Farmers Federation about their concerns,” he said. “The current strategy could never be clear or equitable; we need to find a better way.”
Mayor Pam Clarke said the council would keep lobbying for earlier land valuations.
“The land valuations need to be brought forward. The major problem we had is that they came in far too late, so we need to keep lobbying for that change,” she said.
Cr Robinson gained support for his amendment regarding the make-up of the committee.
“I propose that we have two residential ratepayers, two commercial including someone from Business Horsham, two industrial including someone part of the industrial estate, two farmers chosen by the VFF, and an independent consultant with an accounting background,” he said.
Kalkee farmer Fletcher Mills shared his concerns about council rates during question time.
“My rates have gone up by almost $20,000 in the past 10 years,” he said. “They have gone up by 14.8 per cent this year.”
Mr Mills said he paid $11.50 a hectare in 2009 which increased to $25.13 a hectare in 2017. He has calculated that he will pay $28.80 a hectare this year.
“There appears to be no limit to what we are being asked to pay,” he said. “We fear that once our rates go up, they won’t ever go down.”
The council’s corporate services director Graeme Harrison responded to Mr Mills.
“The numbers you have quoted included the Fire Services Levy and rubbish collection charges. The Fire Services Levy wasn’t around 10 years ago,” he said.
“In 2010-11, the council increased the farm differential rate from five per cent to 10 per cent, then in 2014-15 it increased from 10 per cent to 20 per cent.
“The farm sector share of the rate pie was 30.1 per cent in 2008-09. The share dropped to 28.4 per cent in 2014-15.”
Kalkee farmer Tom Blair said farmers wouldn’t give up the fight to achieve a fairer rates system.
“Council is talking about what will happen next year, but we’re not giving up on this year,” he said.
The council is now seeking expressions of interest from residents to join the Rates Strategy Advisory Committee. The Rates Strategy Review Project will be delivered ahead of the 2019-20 Budget.
The committee will meet between four and six times from October 1 to December 7. Expressions of interest for joining the committee close on September 10.