FARMERS IRATE: Why the rates debate has flared up again
Farmers have lashed out at Bundaberg Regional Council's rate rise and condemned mayor Jack Dempsey for "double standards" over comments he reportedly made last week.
Tensions rose after Cr Dempsey was reported as accusing outgoing State Natural Resources and Mines Minister Anthony Lynham of breaking the back of agriculture over the lowering of the Paradise Dam spillway.
But the comments weren't well received by everyone with a number of the region's farmers calling for the mayor to "fix the rates mess on his own doorstep" instead.
A consortium of farmers which includes Canegrowers Isis, Bundaberg Canegrowers, Bundaberg Fruit & Vegetable Growers and AgForce have been vocal in criticising the council.
"We demand that Mayor Jack Dempsey and his councillors rescind the motion that passed the 2020 Budget and recast the Bundaberg Region budget so that all ratepayers, including farmers, see a maximum increase no greater than CPI (Consumer Price Index)," a statement from the consortium reads.
Bundaberg Canegrowers Director Dean Cayley, who received a huge rates bill for the land his family has farmed since 1946, said, "Is Jack Dempsey joking?"
"How he can stand the shame of his own council budget is beyond me," he said.
"Council is doing a great job of breaking the back of our region's farming industry on its own with this rates rise of up to 235 per cent.
"This financial sabotage by our own council... is hurting all farming operations across the region.
He said Cr Dempsey needed to fix the "mess" on his own doorstep and "drop his double standards".
Bundaberg Regional Council finance spokesman Steve Cooper said the rate in the dollar had gone down across all categories (9% for agriculture).
"The rate in the dollar for the agricultural category is the lowest since the 2013-14 budget," he said.
"We're heading for a $5.2 million dollar deficit and we reduced our capital expenditure by more than $20 million.
"The only thing that's gone up is state valuations."
Cr Cooper said some people made objections to their state valuations and had them reduced.
"We go through this process every few years and different categories are affected each time," he said.
"The Canegrowers proposal to reduce the farm rate in the dollar even further would be unfair to other ratepayers.
"It's not fair that pensioners, battlers, workers and struggling small businesses should subsidise farmers."
Canegrowers Isis Director Peter McLennan said the "astounding" rates rise must be reversed.
"How Jack Dempsey has the audacity to criticise Minister Lynham when he, on his own turf, is delivering a killing blow to so many of his own producers is beyond the pale," he said.
"If Jack Dempsey wants to talk about breaking the back of farmers, he should look to his own council's actions.
"Bundaberg Regional Council is trying to sheet the rates rise home to the State Government, saying the land values have been set by the Department of Department of Natural Resources, Mines, and Energy have created the massive hike."
He went on to describe the rates rise as a "monstrous act against the heart of our community."
Cr Cooper said while farmers say Bundaberg should have adopted the equalisation policy of Mackay, this overlooks the fact that Mackay farmers already pay higher rates than Bundaberg.
"A 150ha farm at Finch Hatton (Mackay) with a valuation of $340,000 pays $9078 in gross general rates per annum," he said.
"A 149ha farm at South Kolan valued at $520,000 pays a gross general rate of $7320."
With regards to Paradise Dam and Dr Lynham, Cr Cooper said water security was the most critical economic issue confronting the Bundaberg region and the mayor would continue to advocate strongly on behalf of the community.