COUNCILS across the Wimmera will have their rating strategies put under the microscope after the state government announced a review into Victoria's rates system.
The rating inquiry was a 2018 state election promise made by the Andrews' Labor government.
Local Government Minister Adem Somyurek said the review would ensure councils were held accountable to the ratepayers they represented.
"This is about ensuring we have a rating system that is fair, equitable and effective for all Victorians. The system we have now is complex and in need of review - we need a contemporary rating system that gives people a fair deal," Mr Somyurek said.
Horsham Mayor Mark Radford said the Horsham Rural City Council welcomed the state government's announcement.
"It's important to realise that our municipality, living where we do in the state, relies heavily on rates to be able to finance our budget," he said.
"In the country compared to the city, the balance of how much comes from rates and how much comes from government grants should be equalised better. It's fair to say that most people would think we pay too many rates.
"I hope the rates review will ask those broader questions such as: how much do we value people who live in the country and whether we're supporting them enough. I will be disappointed if councils lose the ability to be able to adjust the rates within different categories."
Horsham council passed a motion at its March meeting to change its farm rate differential from 80 per cent to 67 per cent of the general rate to help ease the rate burden carried by the farming sector.
Rates have been a contentious issue for the council after rates rose to the capped increase of 2.25 per cent in 2018-19. However, a breakdown of the rates meant residential rates decreased by 0.6 per cent, while farm rates increased by 11.8 per cent.
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Horsham Rural City councillor David Grimble said he had concerns of what the state government review might look like.
"Very clearly local government needs additional funding. We're at a point where local governments aren't able to generate enough revenue through rates, so we need extra assistance from the state and federal governments. It really needs a new model," he said.
"It's probably too late for the government to make changes for this year's budgets. However, right across the state we've seem enormous inequities of what each sector, especially the rural sector, is paying. Councils have the ability to make a difference to ensure rates are fair and equitable."
Victorian Farmers Federation president David Jochinke, of Murra Warra, said the VFF was frustrated by the delayed timeline of the rating system review.
"Rural and regional ratepayers have been waiting since November 6 for action on a rates review following a pre-election promise made by Premier Andrews. It has taken five months for this promise to be actioned and now we discover that rural and regional rate payers will need to wait another year for the report to be delivered," he said.
"Farmers have experienced rate increases of over 50 per cent. While farmers absolutely want to contribute to their local communities, they should not be underpinning the council's operations, particularly when many of them do not receive council services provided to townsfolk."
The independent panel will look at:
- Current local government rates and charges
- Rating exemptions and concessions and their application to various classes of land, including farm land
- The autonomy of local governments to apply a rating system that takes into account local factors
- Current exemptions and discounts for local government rates the impacts any recommended changes would have on councils, ratepayers and residents
The Fair Go Rates cap will remain in place.
Victorian residents will be able to put their views to the panel and participate in the review process, with the panel to deliver its recommendations to government in March 2020.
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