Stories of the broken rates system

Bruce | 50 per cent increase, few services

Bruce is a beef producer from San Remo, near Phillip Island in the Bass Coast Shire. His rates bill this year has increased by a shocking 50 per cent. Yet Bruce, like many farmers, is yet to see any value from his lofty rates bill.

Bruce produces prime Angus beef cattle on his property in San Remo and the financial strain from rising rates bill has only been compounded by the current drought and feed shortage.

Bruce is lucky enough to live on the Bass Highway, which is sealed and receives regular maintenance through VicRoads, not the Bass Coast Shire to which he pays his rates.

Bruce and his family receive few, if any, services through the Bass Coast Shire. Yet they are slugged with an ever increasing rates bill, which is used to fund services in residential areas of the shire.

Vernon | Several farms, varied approaches

Vernon and his family have a mixed farming operation near Skipton with sheep, cattle, prime lambs and cropping across multiple farms.

Vernon has seen his rates bill this year increase by 40 per cent due to dramatic valuation increases on his properties. However, it is the wildly inconstant values assigned to his properties that shocked Vernon the most. Valuation increases have fluctuated between 6 and 64 per cent on different properties.

While some properties are in different shires, they are all within a reasonably small area. This begs the question; how are property values calculated in different councils? Vernon believes, “it is impossible to have any faith in the valuation process with these erratic values”.

Simon’s story | Farmland vs Melbourne home

Simon is a grains and livestock farmer from Warracknabeal, and also owns a property in Melbourne. Simon was shocked when he received his rates notices and found that the Capital Improved Value for both properties was almost the same, yet his rates bill for his farm in Warracknabeal was $5,000 higher.

The property in Melbourne has easy access to first class hospitals, sealed and maintained roads, recreation facilities, a soon-to-be built Pride Centre and public transport. Yet the rates bill is significantly lower than his regional property, which receives none of these benefits or services.

Furthermore, Simon’s property in Warracknabeal produces grain and livestock that feeds Victorians, yet the productive farm is burdened with a higher rates bill that the city home.

Peter | Valuation increase on flood plain

Peter owns a cattle farm near Elmore in the Bendigo City Shire. One of his 25 acre blocks is flood prone and, therefore, Peter cannot apply for a building permit for that block. Despite the block being unsuitable for building on and too small to be a desirable expansion prospect for most agriculturalists, the valuation has increased dramatically.

Moreover, Peter’s main block has increased in value by 50 per cent. In both cases, Peter has made no infrastructure updates to warrant such dramatic increases in value.

These rates increases have forced Peter to sell off stock so he can pay his rates bill and afford feed for the rest of his stock over the dry summer.

Craig’s story | 10 per cent increase for nothing

Craig is a grain and chicken farmer from the Shire of Buloke. This year, Craig has seen his rates increase by 10 per cent and yet sees very little improvement in services from his council.

Craig lives on a dirt road that receives next to no maintenance. He claims that he has only seen the road graded once in the past nine years. The lack of maintenance means the road is unsuitable and unsafe to drive down at any reasonable speed. Craig has lobbied his local council to fix the road due to safety concerns and productivity inefficiencies, yet nothing has been done. On top of the poor road quality, the lack of tree trimming leads to tree limbs falling into the drains, which in turn, clogs up the drains and causes flash flooding.

The clear lack of services Craig receives, despite paying higher rates than town residents, is unacceptable. Poor roads and lack of access to services provides evidence that the shire expects Craig and other farmers in the district to shoulder the rates burden so they can supply services for those living in residential areas.

Pat and Bill | Valuation increase on bush land

Pat and Bill live 45 kilometers out of Bendigo on approximately 140 acres. While the block has “productive ground,” 90 acres is covered with native vegetation which makes it unusable for fattening stock or growing crops. Despite the low amount of productive acreage on the property, Pat and Bill have seen a $20,000 increase in rates.

Pat believes the valuation increases are unfair due to the current dry conditions forcing farmers to spend their income on feed for their stock. Furthermore, Pat feels exploited by the council who have dropped the rate in the dollar to meet the 2.25 per cent rate cap, while simultaneously increasing the valuations of properties to increase revenue.

Despite a large rates bill, Pat and Bill feel council services are all but non-existent. They live on a dusty road that road is rarely graded and, when it is, it is only after weeks of pestering the council. Furthermore, tree maintenance is so poor that branches often litter the road, and the council seems content to ignore the issue and leave it to farmers like Pat and Bill to clean up fallen branches.

Do you have a worse story? Email it to 2018election@vff.org.au and your story could be featured here!