WHEN is a farmer not a farmer? The answer, found Fish Creek landowner Steve George, is when he farms a property classified as Rural Lifestyle. Mr George was given sympathy but little else when he approached South Gippsland Shire Council last Wednesday in a bid to have his skyrocketing rates bill reduced.
Mr George said that in the eight years he had owned the 14.6ha property he had run it as a farm and contributed to the farming community. All he saw for his $2500pa rates bill, however, was the regrading of his road. To add insult to injury, his rates are about to go up, as his property will be rated as Rural Lifestyle rather than Farm land.
Mr George said his rates would increase $500 this year. “What will it be next year? When will it stop? There are lots of people out there in the same boat.” There was, he alleged, “an awful lot of hatred out there for this council”. He scoffed at Council’s claim in its Budget to be innovative, saying: “You’re clearly not innovative in the way you come up with funds!”
Under the new Rating Strategy, properties in the Farm Properties Category, which currently have a rating differential of 90 per cent, will attract an 80 per cent differential in 2014-15 and 70 per cent in 2015-16. However, the Rating Strategy recommends that “properties where primary production and associated improvements are secondary to the value of the residential home site and associated residential improvements (properties coded 117 ‘Residential Rural/Rural Lifestyle)” should not be classified as Farm land for differential rating purposes. Mr George’s property falls into this category.
“We’re not seeing anything for our money!” he exclaimed. “Every year the rates go up. I cannot afford you people any more. You can’t keep bleeding people. Enough is enough.”
Cr Andrew McEwen asked if there were any grounds for Mr George to appeal. In reply, Finance Manager Tom Lovass explained that there were not, since his property fell into the Rural Lifestyle category.
Cr Nigel Hutchinson-Brooks tried to placate Mr George, by saying that he was in a similar situation, but to no avail.
“I’m not going to roll over and take this…It’s just not right!” insisted the angry landowner.
The mayor encouraged Mr George to stay for the council meeting that afternoon, when the Budget would be presented. “Higher charges for lifestyle properties and rate reductions for farmers – that is a consequence of what we’ve done and we believe the net benefit across the community makes it worthwhile,” Cr Fawcett concluded.