East Gippsland farmers have welcomed the East Gippsland Shire’s decision to offer rate relief to those affected by the drought.
The Victorian Government’s $1.51 million Local Government Service Support Payment will be passed on to farmers in full, effective from December 31, 2019.
Chris Nixon, who farms at Bete Bolong on the Snowy River, has welcomed the decision.
Mr Nixon, who sits on the East Gippsland Shire’s Drought Reference Group, said farmers “had been calling for rate relief from day one.”
“So, we’re very happy and would like to congratulate the shire for passing it on in full,” Mr Nixon said.
Any property that is classified in council’s rating system as farm property is automatically eligible.
Council will send property owners a letter with details of the rate relief amount that will be applied to their current year rates, followed by an amended rate notice showing the rate relief amount and the adjusted balance of rates.
Mr Nixon said one of the issues with specific grants for various farm relief was that not all farmers automatically qualified.
He said in contrast the rate relief would allow farmers to “buy in hay or water, or pay farm bills or do a bit of infrastructure.”
“It effectively frees up the cash flow and gives a degree of flexibility to farmers as to where they need to spend money,” he said.
The drought has hit farmers hard with most having destocked.
While farmers are rejoicing over recent rainfalls, Mr Nixon says “the ground is still incredibly dry.”
“More rain is definitely needed.
“The lack of run-off and dam water is a big issue for us here.
“We’ve received 460 millimetres of rain to date this year and the average rainfall is 800 millimetres.”
Mr Nixon says farmers in the Gippsland Red Gum Plains and the High Country had received much less and were “in a world of pain.”
Traditionally farmers are reluctant to ask for help and Mr Nixon concedes rebuilding will “be a slow and arduous process for everyone to get back on their feet.”
Bairnsdale business owner, John Dahlsen, who weighed into the rate relief debate early in April, said he felt it was ‘very interesting’ how the state and federal governments were targeting how to help farmers so differently.
“There is no doubt that farm rates in East Gippsland are out of whack with the rest of the state and are grossly unfair,” Mr Dahlsen said.
“Rates are an extremely high percentage of a farmer’s revenue.
“I think what the shire has done is smart and I applaud them for doing it.
“With rate relief it’s direct with no associated administration or bureaucratic cost.
“To get this rate relief is fantastic.”
Buchan farmer, Sandra Livingstone, who runs Angus beef and fat lambs on her property, said she and her husband, Bill, had virtually destocked the entire property.
“We just kept a nucleus of breeders,” she told the News.
She said the rate relief was welcome but “wished it had come earlier.”
“My husband and I have been lobbying for rate relief from the outset.
“Rates are a huge expense, some farmers are paying between $10,000 $60,000 in rates. It has a big impact on the farm,” Mrs Livingstone said.
“They doubled our rates last year, because of land values, right in the middle of the drought.”
Mrs Livingstone said she was grateful the East Gippsland Shire had acted on rate relief.
PICTURED: Sandra and Bill Livingstone, of Buchan, are grateful the local council will pass on rate relief but Mrs Livingstone says she wishes it had come earlier.