Commercial and industrial landowners in regional Victoria are set to be the key winners following a slashing of fees related to the provision of fire services.
In a joint statement released on Wednesday, Treasurer Michael O’Brien and Deputy Premier and Minister for State Development Peter Ryan announced that from July 1, variable rates for the Fire Services Property Levy would be slashed across a number of property types.
Owners of commercial and industrial property in Country Fire Authority areas will be the biggest winners, with average levy rates slashed by $100 and $300 respectively, while farmers and owners of industrial and public benefit buildings in metropolitan areas will also pay lower rates.
Also benefiting will be investors in residential investment flats, whose properties will be recategorised from commercial to the lower residential rate.
Fixed property charges of $102 for residential properties and $205 for all other properties will continue to apply in addition to the variable charge, as will a $50 concession for pensioners and veterans.
Introduced last year following recommendations by the 2009 Victorian Bushfires Royal Commission, the levy replaced previous government fire service charges which were levied on housing and commercial insurance policies, and were designed to ensure all property owners – insured or otherwise – contributed to the cost of fire service provision.
Ryan said the new rates would benefit property owners across regional Victoria, including farmers.
“Last year we brought in the lowest levy rates for regional areas we could afford,” he said. “This year, we’ve lowered them again.”
Property Council of Australia (Victoria) executive director Jenifer Cunich welcomed the reductions but cautioned the Council would press for further changes to introduce caps, fire suppression incentives and review mechanisms.
The Council had previously opposed the levy, which it said delivered steep increases for owners of commercial property compared with the previous system.
“The easing of the 2014-15 rates for MFB and CFA commercial, industrial and vacant land will help reduce tax pressures on Victorian businesses and tenants,” Cunich said. “These reductions are definitely a step in the right direction.”
Ryan said the annual cost of providing fire services across the state amounts to around $780 million.
He added that the state government directly funds around 12.5 per cent of MBF and 22.5 per cent of CFA operating budgets, and that funding in this year’s budget with regard to the former would include the replacement of all respiratory equipment.