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Council rates grab shows alarming gap between Ararat farmers and businesses

FARMERS account for less than 13 per cent of the total Ararat economic output but would contribute more than half of the $14 million the Council expects to earn in rates under its plan to scrap the differential rating strategy, a State Government inquiry has heard.

The Victorian Farmers Federation today fronted the Commission of Inquiry into the Rural City of Ararat, presenting statistics drawn from the Council’s own budget detailing the steep rates divide between commercial and farm businesses.

According to the latest REMPLAN data, agriculture represents 12.9 per cent ($175.6 million) of the town’s $1.36 billion economic output while the remaining 87.1 per cent ($1.2 billion) is made up of commercial and industrial enterprises.

But under the Council’s uniform rating strategy, which would force farmers to stomach a 46 per cent rate hike, commercial and industrial businesses would contribute a mere 10.4 per cent ($756,000) to the council’s projected revenue, while primary producers are expected to cough up 55.1 per cent ($7.8 million).

VFF President David Jochinke said the statistics showed an alarming inequity in the Council’s draft rating strategy.

“Ararat Council has not given a rational explanation to abolish differential rates; they have not provided any analysis on how the plan will impact ratepayers; they have not seriously explored alternative options; and they have not considered community evidence about the negative impact of the plan,” Mr Jochinke said.

The plan has been met with palpable anger by the region’s farming community, with more than 150 people attending a VFF meeting to voice their concerns and another 300 raising the issue at a special Council meeting, while the Council was inundated with more than 600 submissions from local primary producers opposing the proposal.

Mr Jochinke said he was pleased with the opportunity to present the VFF’s argument to the Commission.

“Today we put the farmer’s case to the Commission along very simple and clear lines: the lack of analysis about true costs of rates to farmers and disinterest from the Ararat Council means they’ve got a very tough case to answer,” he said.

“We believe we had a fair hearing and I look forward to seeing the final report.”

The Commission is due to hand down its report on August 1.

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