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Shire’s farm rate relief advocacy continues

Friday 26 April

Lobbying for farm rate relief remains a priority for East Gippsland Shire Council Mayor, Cr Natalie O’Connell.

 

In the past week the Mayor has again pleaded the case of the region’s drought-stricken farmers in meetings with the Minister for Agriculture Jaclyn Symes and the Office of Premier Daniel Andrews.

 

“Again, I requested a rate subsidy from the Victorian Government because our farmers need help. Council needs the Government to provide the rate assistance as providing a subsidy from within our own budget is something we cannot absorb without impacts to services, maintenance and infrastructure,” Cr O’Connell said.

 

“For several months, the Minister for Agriculture Jaclyn Symes and I have had fortnightly contact to discuss the drought situation and potential further assistance.

 

“Our farmers need to know if the State is going to provide rate relief so they can plan and further prepare for this continuing drought.”

 

Cr O’Connell said she was well aware there has been considerable public discussion since the release of Council’s 2019/20 Draft Budget a fortnight ago critical that it did not propose enough support for East Gippsland farmers.

 

“As a result, earlier this week Councillors indicated we may revisit the Draft Budget prior to the public submissions formally closing,” Cr O’Connell said.

 

Cr O’Connell said the proposed rise in farm rate revenue could be attributed to a combination of factors, including farm land valuations increasing.

 

“Land valuations are conducted annually by independent contractors working for the Valuer-General Victoria and Council has no formal means to appeal. However, our officers have certainly asked for clarification on how and why farm land valuations could increase during a prolonged drought,” Cr O’Connell said.

 

“There are many elements that go into making up a rate valuation notice, such as land valuations, the rate on Capital Improved Value, the municipal charge and other fees and charges. However, we understand the majority of ratepayers are only interested in the bottom line – what they must pay.”

 

The Mayor said it was also important to remember the flow-on impacts of drought to farm related businesses reliant on the agriculture sector for their turnover, and how the ‘tightening of the belt’ often means less activity in the commercial and retail sectors.

 

As part of Council’s acknowledgement of the impacts of drought on many parts of the economy – including farms and businesses – a range of initiatives are in place:

 

  • Lowering the price of adult entry to $5 per adult entry and hosting a multi-agency ‘Drought Hub’ at the 2019 East Gippsland Field Days;
  • Committed $500,000 in the 2019/20 Draft Budget to respond to the needs of affected communities without the constraints of external funding criteria;
  • Free silage wrap disposal at three waste sites;
  • Coordinating drought information on Council’s website that details the agencies available to provide assistance and support;
  • Appointment of a Drought Assistance Officer whose primary role is to assist farmers in navigating the paperwork to access the range of assistance and support available;
  • Rates payment assistance. Arrangements can include spreading rates payments more evenly across a period of time, or it might be an interest free period that allows the rates to be paid over time without extra costs being incurred;
  • Assisting farmers with pest animals - $350,000;
  • Investing in Emergency Water Supply infrastructure in partnership with DELWP and Southern Rural Water;
  • Installing static water supplies in remote communities to assist in fire emergencies - $250,000;
  • Improving the East Gippsland Livestock Exchange including roofing over the sheep yards - $2 million;
  • Receiving and distributing funding for local groups to hold events to reduce social isolation and support each other.

 

“At the Field Days this Friday and Saturday we are sponsoring The Drought Hub (sites B9-10) and councillors want to hear from ratepayers, including their feedback on the proposed draft budget. This is all valuable information that guides our decision making around ensuring we strike the right balance between rates and charges and maintaining existing service levels.”

 

Documents and information on how to make a submission to the Draft Budget are available from Council’s website and the community is encouraged to have their say.

 

 

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