Rates crush cash-strapped farmers

13 MARCH 2019

Alex Sinnott

Weekly Times

ADRIAN Mohr has been paying rates for more than four decades but says he has never experienced a council cash crunch quite like this. The Meredith farmer is part of a growing chorus calling for an overhaul of the Fair Go rates capping system with Local Government Minister Adem Somyurek kickstarting a statewide review next month.

The 62-year-old has been forced to work two part-time jobs to acquire the necessary funds to cover the $5500 rates bill from the Golden Plains Shire for his property. “Back in 2003, the shire rates for my 280ha was $1500. Now it’s $5500. It’s a huge jump, way ahead of inflation,” Mr Mohr said. “When you don’t earn any income, you don’t have to pay tax. Yet when you’ve been hit by drought and other forms of hardship, you’re still expected to pay rates. “Just to make ends meet, I’ve been working as a relief bus driver and a builders’ labourer. That’s just to make sure I can cover the rates.”

The wool grower started paying rates in the late 1970s when he went into partnership with his late father on the soldier-settler farm. He said rates were relatively stable until the cost spikes of recent years. “Councils say these cost prices are linked to land value. But when you’re in drought, when so many farms are struggling, farmland isn’t worth two bob an acre. Who’d want to buy it?’

Mr Mohr’s concerns were cited by Liberal MP Bev McArthur in the Legislative Council last week. The upper house MP cited last year’s regional council inquiry which noted a Stonnington Council resident paid $962 in rates on an $800,000 Toorak property while a Buloke Shire resident paid $6990 in rates for a Donald region farm with an equivalent value. “At the same time,” Stonnington Council collects nearly twice the amount in animal registration fees and parking fines as Buloke does in rates,” Mrs McArthur said. “This $22 million windfall courtesy of dogs and fines in Stonnington is virtually Buloke’s entire projected revenue for the 2019-20 financial year.”

Mr Somyurek said the reference document for the state review would be released next month. “A review will take place. The Victorian Government is doing all it can to support rural and regional councils,” Mr Somyurek said.