Rural rate rise emergency

Councils take emergency action as rural rates rise

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AgForce has called about 30 municipalities to talk about the impact soaring property prices are having on rates.

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PAY DAY: Farmland values are rising so quickly in some places that councils are struggling to keep rates fair.

PAY DAY: Farmland values are rising so quickly in some places that councils are struggling to keep rates fair.

Rural property prices are rising by hundreds of dollars a day in Queensland, forcing councils like Paroo in the state's south to take emergency action.

Farmer advocacy body AgForce is calling on dozens more to respond.

AgForce chief executive Michael Guerin said the spiralling property values had translated into large hikes in shire rates that placed an unfair burden on farmers.

"It needs to be recognised that cashflows for businesses don't run up with land valuations," he said.

"Primary producers are taking on more and more debt as valuations go up and young people trying to get in the industry are needing to borrow more to get in."

At the same time, Mr Guerin said, AgForce understood the need for councils to be properly funded so they could service local communities.

He's called about 30 municipalities over the last few months to talk about the impact soaring property prices are having on rates and the implications for farmers. The reception had been "mixed".

"There was an initial fear, and I can understand it, that we were just turning up to demand farmers get away scot free when they've got a council to run and have their own cashflow challenges," Mr Guerin said.

"When we explain what we're about, which is that we want strong local councils, and we want to play a part in strengthening them, the whole conversation changes."

One of those councils had been Paroo.

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The Queensland Valuer General's newest valuations for properties in Paroo rose an average 78.1 per cent overall since 2018.

It's not the only municipality to see stellar growth. Analysis of Queensland Valuer General data shows the value of primary production land has grown by hundreds of dollars a day in municipalities right across the state.

Land in the Central Highlands has risen $1272 a day since the last valuation in 2017 while Isaac has hit $1800 a day.

In response to growing valuations, Paroo Shire Council mayor Suzette Beresford said, the council usually reduced the percentage of property values paid as rates each year to keep its income relatively steady. But this year was different.

It was the spread of increases at Paroo that left Cr Beresford and her fellow councillors in the horns of a dilemma.

The lowest increase for rural properties was 35 per cent and the highest was an eye-watering 335pc.

"We found that, if we lowered the rate in the dollar, we might get some people down to no increase or paying a little less, but other rate payers were still going to pay a 100pc or more increase, and we just didn't think that was fair," Cr Beresford said.

Paroo decided to put a 10pc cap on rates this financial year. It's only a temporary measure to buy the council time to do a proper review of its rating system.

Cr Beresford said that, with only two months between receiving the valuations and finalising the council budget, the council hadn't had enough time to take a more measured approach.

Even after applying the rate cap, the reception from ratepayers hadn't been entirely positive.

"There have been some complaints, and we've taken those on board," Cr Beresford said.

"We had decided anyway that we would look at further modelling to see what different methodologies we might be able to come up with because the prices of land are still going up."

The Paroo Shire Council experience, Mr Guerin said, was a great example of a council making mistakes and looking for solutions.

"They did not consult adequately upfront, misread some of the issues for producers and the intent of AgForce as their representative," he said.

"So that was an example of bad, but the example of good was having sat down with the mayor and the CEO of Paroo Shire and talked it through, they understand their issue, they're prepared to work with us and they acknowledge the mutual interest in getting this right."

AgForce, ratepayers, councillors and senior council staff will meet next month to form a rates review group at Paroo, Cr Beresford said.

"We'll put the resources into putting together some modelling, and then work through what we feel is the most equitable method to move forward with."

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