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On the Land

10 May, 2022

Massive valuations rise angers local landholders

A HUGE increase in the Etheridge Shire's unimproved property valuations released by the Valuer-General in March has created an uproar amongst landowners in the district, prompting local grazier Lou Keough to form an action group against the rises.

By Sally Turley

A huge increase in the Etheridge Shire's unimproved property valuations prompts grazier Lou Keough to form an action group.

A HUGE increase in the Etheridge Shire's unimproved property valuations released by the Valuer-General in March has created an uproar amongst landowners in the district, prompting local grazier Lou Keough to form an action group against the rises. 

The Keough family have experienced rises of between 107-250 per cent across their six properties, “Lyndhurst”, “Welcome Downs”, “Mywin”, “Lynwater”, “The Lynd” and the 13,835-ha “Maitland Downs”, which the family purchased for $9.8 million in December 2018.” “There is great concern and anger amongst landholders who don't see the increases as fair and equitable, for although urban land values have generally reduced by 26.7 per cent, the shire's 132 primary production blocks have risen by an average of 191.7 per cent across the board,” Mrs Keough said. 

While the Boulia, Burke, Carpentaria and Croydon shires have all had massive leaps of 222-350 per cent, Cairns and Townsville cities only increased by 46 and 47 per cent respectively, the Cassowary Coast by only 10 per cent and the Douglas shire by just 2 per cent.

“In their justification of the rises, council has tagged the high beef prices, the historically low interest rates and generally favourable exchange rates (USD) as drivers, but we all know that beef prices have been falling rapidly on the back of the failed wet season, interest rates are on the way back up and a favourable American dollar does not always translate into better cattle prices,” Mrs Keough said. 

Grazier and former Etheridge councillor, George Ryan of “Ballynure” Station, said the increases presented a real problem for the shire. “Mayors from every affected shire, in a united front with Agforce, should have been straight on a plane to Brisbane, protesting violently to the Valuer-General to get these valuations down,” he said. 

Landowners who disagree with their valuation and are able to provide supporting information can lodge their objection online or at the address shown at the top of their valuation notice. 

If landholders do not have internet access, they can call 1300 664 217 to request an objection kit. But it must be done by 30 May.

 “There is no more time to lose to make government understand the industry has just come out of a debt crisis situation and there is just not enough juice in the chop for huge rate rises,” Mr Ryan said. “Council must focus on pushing back valuation increases, because while they have the power to alter the rate calculation formula, if they drop the cents in the dollar rate too far, they will jeopardise major annual financial assistance grants such as the state government's water drainage grant. 

“The rural industry has been struggling for the last 30 years and it feels like the minute there is a bit of sunshine, everyone has their hand out. My wife Miranda and I have been trying to expand our business in small bites, and just have to hope the council doesn't rate our smaller blocks out of existence.” 

Etheridge shire mayor and cattle producer Barry Hughes said recent property sales in the Georgetown and Croydon area meant some rises were not totally unexpected, but the scale of the leap in valuations had taken people by surprise. 

“We are holding a series of rate workshops over the next few weeks in preparation for our annual budget meeting and will be using all the tools in our financial kit to work around classification and rate of cents in the dollar,” he said. “We will be going through everything with a fine-tooth comb – we kept rates static in 2020 and only increased them at the CPI rate last year, so to some extent 2022 will be the year of reckoning. “We support people’s right to challenge valuations and urge them to do so as a group for the most productive result, but council can only soften the impact so much, while still taking care of council business. “The rate base represents just under seven per cent of council's annual operating costs, so are a fairly small part of the funding pie. They are important to the budget, but will never be enough. “It is important to remember that the increases are for unimproved values. Rates sit separately to that and we have to be careful not to build that bridge. At the end of the day, we may see incremental increases over a period of time.” 

Deputy mayor and aspiring grazier Laurel Prior said imminent rate rises presented another challenge for young families trying to get a start in the industry. “Aaron and I have spent the last 10 years building our cattle numbers with the sole aim of getting ourselves in a position to buy a property,” she said. “We have 2000 head agisted across the State and believed the current high cattle prices and low interest rates might have provided the ideal environment for us to take that leap of faith. “But the goal posts keep shifting and these huge valuation increases have us thinking we may have already missed the boat, especially as we now have to compete increasingly with southern interests looking for farming land in the Georgetown area.” 

Grazier Malcolm McClymont, who has two properties in the shire, said he would be seeking legal advice and would be joining the protest group. “If you don't do anything about it you are saying you accept it,” he said. “My father used to protest every time there was an unimproved valuation increase on the premise that he had done all the work and paid all the costs improving his country, only to be penalised by rate and rent rises.”

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