By Jackson Russell
Kilmore East farmer Kevin Butler is hoping Mitchell Shire farmers will rally for rates reform outside the council chambers.
Mr Butler, who founded BlazeAid, said the current rates are unfair to both Mitchell Shire Council and its ratepayers.
“When we look at how rates are levied in Mitchell Shire, it’s a dog’s breakfast,” he said.
Mr Butler is worried that a considerable portion of property owners receiving farm rates are not genuine farmers and will sell their property for a considerable profit as the shire grows, short-changing council.
“Council is being short-changed because the government collects from capital gains but the shire earns zero,” he said.
But council says its rating strategy has eligibility criteria for determining various categories including agricultural land.
Director of governance and corporate performance Laurie Ellis said agricultural land included land used by a business that makes a profit from its activities on the land or had a reasonable prospect to do so.
Council reviews its rating strategy every year with the most recent review in March.
One change removed the need to provide an ABN to meet the requirements of the agricultural categories.
Mr Ellis said agricultural land owners were periodically requested to provide information to council to confirm their land fitted the eligibility criteria.
“If no response is received, or council determines that the land use no longer meets the requirements, the property will revert to being assessed as general land or any other category as identified,” he said.
Mr Butler is also concerned farmers could be priced out of Mitchell Shire as property values skyrocket but farming returns don’t keep up.
“The value of properties has gone up three times in the last 15 years and the shire rates your farm accordingly but our profits haven’t gone up three times in the last 15 years,” he said.
A council statement on Monday said large properties actively used for agriculture will see an average rate reduction of 4.65 per cent this year while smaller properties will see a small increase of 1.6 per cent.
Mitchell Shire Mayor Bill Chisholm said council knew farmers were doing it tough.
“Recent media coverage suggesting that rural rates in Mitchell will increase on average by 13.55 per cent just isn’t true. This has caused undue stress and concern for many and we’re very disappointed that these figures are circulating,” he said.
“With property values shifting, particularly in the south of the shire, there will be some rural properties that face larger increases, but on the whole, most properties will go down or face an increase at or below the rate cap.”
Compared to general or residential properties, large agricultural properties will continue to pay 20 per cent less, with smaller rural properties paying 10 per cent less.
Mr Butler said he wanted Mitchell Shire farmers to bring their tractors to the Mitchell Shire Council offices in Broadford on Saturday, June 15 to show their support for rates reform.
“If you’re genuine farmer, make a statement and bring your tractor. My suspicion is most do not have a tractor and how do you farm like that?” he said.