The most significant issue facing rural municipalities is the funding system of local government based on property taxes.  This is an out-dated method of revenue raising and puts rural and regional municipalities at a distinct disadvantage to metropolitan Councils.

My views on the matter were reinforced at a recent briefing session kindly provided by the Pyrenees Shire. 

I used an adjournment debate in Parliament to prosecute the case that the system is broken and needs urgent legislative change. Rural townspeople and farmers alike face considerable injustice compared to their big city metropolitan cousins.

The system punishes those with assets but ignores income levels; values land on factors such as future development potential and aesthetics but not profitability; and consequently penalises property owners outside the tram tracks of Melbourne.

The Report by the 2018 Inquiry into Victoria’s Rural and Regional Councils noted that a Stonington Council resident of Toorak pays $962 in rates on a $800,000 property while a resident in Donald in the Buloke Shire in the Western Victoria Region would pay $6990 in rates for the same $800,000 property.

Meanwhile Stonington Council collects nearly twice the amount in animal registration fees and parking fines as Buloke does in rates. This $22m windfall courtesy of dogs and fines in Stonington is virtually Buloke’s entire projected revenue for 2019/20.

However, Stonington only needs to spend $5m on road maintenance, while Buloke spends $8m (and that is probably insufficient) across a total of 5550km of sealed, gravel and earth roads. Not only are rural townspeople victims of this country/city divide inequity but also farmers. One farmer in the Pyrenees Shire, for example endured a 52 per cent increase in his rates after property valuation increases.  Rate rises also increase fire insurance levy imposts.

It is unfair that rural Councils have to largely depend on property taxation to fund services while metropolitan councils have parking fees, fines and pet registrations worth millions, plus Grants Commission money.

These State Government imposed annual valuations and consequent huge rate imposts, come at a time when many farmers are doing it tough due to drought, lack of water access and other market and seasonal factors. 

There is nothing fair about Daniel Andrews ‘Fair Go’ rates system. I will work to ensure a more equitable funding model for local government while re-assessing the essential roles and responsibilities of the three levels of government.

15 March 2019