CAMPAIGNERS for rates reform in Northern Grampians Shire are cautiously optimistic after putting their concerns to the Shire Council during the council's Monday October 4 meeting.
Karen Hyslop, Tania Walter and Linda Taylor are among those farmers seeking to being change to the Northern Grampians rates system.
According to the campaign, farmers have been subjected to rates increases between 15 and 22 per cent for multiple years, causing great distress to farmers within the community.
Mrs Hyslop, a farmer and former councillor, is leading the campaign and felt her fellow Rate Your Rates campaigners had been heard at the meeting.
"I'm pleased that they acknowledge publicly that they have a problem with their rating system," Mrs Hyslop said.
"It was a big step forward for them to actually realize that they need to change something."
"We've had this problem for a few years, so it was just nice of them to acknowledge it."
Mrs Hyslop said she was satisfied with the timeline proposed by the Shire Council, and that it made sense as it aligned with the release of the 2022/23 draft budget.
"They are looking at it and that they will have a decision by May of next year, which was a big positive to hear," she said.
Tania Walter, another farmer who spoke at the meeting, said while she was pleased the issue was acknowledged, however it's only the first step towards change.
"I don't feel like I can relax until a sustainable rating strategy is actually adopted," Ms Walter said.
Ms Walter said that rates shock in farming communities can be exacerbated by the timing of the release.
"We've got a window between harvest and cropping, around February, March and April, that we can sit down with our bankers, our accountants are important and also our financial advisors," she said.
Got a story to share? Get in touch! firstname.lastname@example.org
"(By the time rates come out) we're basically on tractors.
"Farmers are putting in their crops and they're working around the clock and suddenly we've got a rates notice... most of us have experienced 15 to 22 per cent or more continual rate increases over multiple years now."
Speaking in response to the questions posed by the Rate Your Rates campaign, Northern Grampians Shire mayor Murray Emerson said the shire took the issue of rates incredibly seriously, and regularly changes the way it calculates rates.
"We do that quite often, and we are a fair bit more serious about it right now because of the large valuation increases," Cr Emerson said.
"A review of the options regarding calculating rates is underway; we've had three sessions so far."
"We genuinely believe that it's not fair and equitable."
Cr Emerson said Council had also been engaged in discussions with the Victorian Farming Federation, who held an online forum to discuss the issue on Tuesday September 28.
However, he said Northern Grampians Shire Council was not currently satisfied with any current proposals.
"At the moment we are unable to commit to any suggestions until we can source more information and deal closely with the ideas that people are bringing up," he said.
"At this stage, we are acknowledging what people are saying, but we are not supporting any particular campaign right now."
If the rates system is changed because it burdens farmers in particular, it would not be the first time in recent years.
In 2018, Northern Grampians Shire Council backflipped on a proposed 25.2 per cent rate increase for farming properties, instead opting for a 2.5 per cent rate increase across the board.
Then-Shire mayor, Cr Tony Driscoll, said the change would even out the massive fluctuation.
"It's not a perfect solution, but it's about trying to be fair," he said at the time, noting the decision was based on public consultation.
The Rate Your Rates campaigners are hoping for a similar change.
"I think they need to stabilize the system a little bit," Mrs Hyslop said.
"I hope that they do openly consult the public with the strategy going forward concerning rates; the public need to be involved."
While you're with us, you can now receive updates straight to your inbox from the Stawell Times-News. To make sure you're up-to-date with all the news from across the region, sign up here.