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Council puts rate relief on agenda with Minister

Friday 22 February

East Gippsland Shire Council Mayor Cr Natalie O’Connell will seek a rate relief commitment for drought-affected farmers from the State Agriculture Minister this afternoon.


Cr O’Connell will meet with Minister Jaclyn Symes in East Gippsland today, with the number one priorities being a commitment for the Victorian Government to subsidise rate relief for the region’s primary producers and subsidised transport costs for water and feed as the prolonged drought continues to impact East Gippsland.


“We have heard the calls from our primary production sector, and many others, about farm rate relief as a tangible way of providing assistance,” Cr O’Connell said.


“The restriction council faces on providing such relief - either a reduction or deferment of rate payments - is that it is not possible from within council’s budget without impacts on services or levels of service delivery,” Cr O’Connell said.


“Providing the rate relief without assistance from the Government would have an impact on our budget in the constrained environment of rate capping, and would result in a reduction in service levels across the shire that would need to be absorbed by all ratepayers.


“I will impress on the Minister that rate relief would remove one of the many financial pressures on our important primary production sector as producers juggle cost pressures of buying in fodder destocking, and reduced production and income.


“Transport subsidies for water and feed will also be raised as another way of alleviating pressure on those that are struggling.


“The ball is in the Minister’s court.”


Cr O’Connell said Council had come under some criticism for its approach to securing $1 million in Australian Government funding and how that money will be spent.


“We raised concern, as early as August last year, that affected farm and associated businesses can, fairly, not equate funding for such community focused infrastructure projects as meaningful drought assistance. Despite strong advocacy on the point, it became clear that Council, to access the funding, needed to frame a grant application that focusses on a range of infrastructure projects,” Cr O’Connell said.


“We have made representation to the Federal department, our local Member Darren Chester and more recently the Deputy Prime Minister about the funding guidelines.”


Criteria was made available in December and Council’s application, lodged last week in conjunction with the East Gippsland Drought Reference Group, included:


  • $500,000 towards the sheep pen renewal yard roofing at the East Gippsland Regional Livestock Exchange (total cost $770,000).
  • $225,000 for the installation of 15 static 46,000-litre concrete water tanks at strategic locations on publicly accessible land agreed to in conjunction with the CFA. The tanks are installed with lockable CFA couplings which are designed only to be accessed for firefighting purposes.
  • $160,000 for a joint tourism attraction and marketing initiative in conjunction with Wellington Shire Council.
  • $30,000 for the installations of a ground water bore and standpipe as part of the Emergency Water Supply Points Program operated by the Victorian Government.


The Mayor said there was no provision in the criteria for on-ground assistance directly related to primary producers.


“The funding cannot be used for council or water rate relief, providing voucher/gift cards, replenishing water tanks on private properties for human consumption or purchasing fodder, to name a few,” Cr O’Connell said.


“However, funding can be used for community infrastructure such as parks, recreational facilities, roads, lighting and equipment upgrades, establishing new bores on public property, refurbishing shop fronts etc.


“While this funding rationale may not sit well with our primary producers and ratepayers, they are the parameters we have been dealt. Council will continue work to maximise how we can have the most impact with the funding available, with our primary producers front of mind.


“A positive of this infrastructure work will be that Council can utilise local contractors, which will in turn provide an economic stimulus to not only those contractors, but their suppliers and sub-contractors.


“We are a long way from the impacts of this drought ending. We will continue to work on supporting our communities and advocating for our important agrifood sector.


“Our city friends should also be reminded that East Gippsland has much to offer, despite the drought. Our events calendar is very full between now and Easter, and, although we would love it to rain, the silver lining is that the late summer and early autumn climate is perfect for holidaying.


“Now is the time for local residents to encourage their city-based family and friends to pay us a visit, help stimulate our economy, enjoy our great part of the world, and also gain a greater appreciation of our region’s plight in these challenging times.”


Council has been allocated $150,000 under the Regional Development Victoria Community Resilience Program, with organisations such as Far East Victoria Landcare, the Omeo District Health, Orbost Regional Health and various community groups allocated money to assist with running events, health checks, wellness days and concerts etc.


A further $100,000 will be available to Council in early March for the continuation of activities under this funding stream, to be expended by the end of June.


View the Australia Government Drought Communities Programme frequently asked questions .



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