Without rural rate relief for primary producers about a third of NSW councils face the likelihood of a serious income shortfall as drought-whacked farmers struggle to pay their bills, says Orange mayor, Reg Kidd.
He has applauded the National Farmers' Federation call for government action to help farmers cover their rate costs.
"It's pretty hard to find sums like $26,000 for rates if you haven't had any income for two years or more, and you're paying thousands every month to feed livestock, pay fuel bills and keep kids at school," said Councillor Kidd.
Cr Kidd, himself a farmer and agricultural consultant, has been championing the rate relief theme with NSW's Local Government Association and promoted a call for help from NSW Farmers at that organisation's July annual conference.
We need to see direct funding to councils to cover bona fide drought impacted rural ratepayers with a 50 per cent or 100pc reductions
"It's likely quite a lot of rate revenue simply won't come in, or will be paid in slow instalments in many drought-hit rural areas," he said.
That immediately impacted on how much councils could spend on roads, parks and rubbish services, and payrolls.
"We need to see direct funding to councils - no loans or delayed payments - to cover bona fide drought impacted rural ratepayers with a 50 per cent or 100pc reductions.
"I don't think it would be too complex to calculate a council's rural rate expectations and deliver a lump sum payment.
"That's, let's say, something like $2 million going to a centre like Dubbo which can be pumped back into its faltering local economy."
He estimated about 30pc of NSW councils had significant drought stress impacting rural ratepayers and spilling into commercial businesses in towns.
NSW Farmers drought industry task force chairman, Wayne Dunford, agreed, also questioning if Canberra appreciated the need for drought to be part of a long term national agriculture and regional economic strategy.
He said regional communities retailers and farm service providers, particularly those in areas experiencing at least their second consecutive failed cropping season, were "in a really nervous state".
"People are looking at the forecast and seriously wondering what on earth they should be doing if this continues next year," he said.
Mr Dunford, who until last week led NFF's economics and farm business committee, personally believed governments must be far more proactive about accommodating and understanding agriculture's drought risk and develop policy agendas which planned for repeated big dry setbacks in regional Australia.
"If governments in this country expect agriculture to continue as a key part of the economy they'll have to do more forward planning because we can't be relying on last minute policy ideas and cash handouts," he said.
Mr Dunford, who farms at Parkes and Brewarrina, hoped the NFF's recommendation for a national drought review and policy planning update every two years would stir the federal government to take more responsibility.
"Everybody at federal and state government level seems to want to dodge the issue," he said.
Farmers were resilient enough to handle a lot of extreme seasonal challenges, but even the best individual preparations for the current crisis could not have foreseen the need to feed livestock for more than three or four years straight.
"Parts of North West NSW now in the seventh year of this struggle."
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