Successes in rates battle

By Nigel Billings

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Charges for services rather than land-based levies are fairer, says lobby group.
Charges for services rather than land-based levies are fairer, says lobby group.

Early each year, Federated Farmers doubles its efforts to contain farm rates through submissions on district and regional council annual plans.

This is a huge exercise in advocacy - submissions are followed by hearings in as many as 70 jurisdictions where farms are within the council's boundaries. That means 70 rating systems to analyse and submit on. The federation takes a constructive approach of proposing alternative methods and modifiers to encourage councils to rate equitably and ease the major burden on farms.

Our major planks are funding public services by flat uniform charges instead of property value rates, the use and retention of rural rating differentials, and the use of targeted rates to reflect the benefit of different property groups from council services. Federated Farmers consistently opposes rate increases above the level of inflation, believing councils must "cut the cloth" to fit in the same way business and households do.

Over time our wide coverage and consistency has produced some positive results. Recently, farmers in Rotorua found their rates fell an average of $1500 on the back of a long campaign to get the rating system to capital value and keep up the uniform annual general charge.

There is no question that the overall effect of this lobby - keeping the pressure on councils to rate fairly and spend reasonably - is worth cash to farmers and the farm economy.

This election year has produced a surprisingly strong focus in the annual plans on fiscal responsibility and containing debt. Given this, councils generally produced restrained rate increases with the exception of spikes in areas of Gisborne, Waitaki and Marlborough.

In Gisborne, the council has responded proactively with an interim rate remission policy for farms affected by big increases and the federation is engaged with them on a thorough review of the rating system for next year.

Federated Farmers was also there in support of decisions to make small reductions in farm rating differentials in Dunedin and Christchurch, with half of a percentage point shaved off a differential increase in the Manawatu.

We continued our work to see a reduced reliance on general rates on property value in favour of uniform charges. These efforts bore fruit in the Waikato region, with the regional council tweaking the uniform annual general charge up, which reduced rates on, for example, a $2 million farm by 2 per cent when compared to the original draft annual plan.

With rates there is always a long way to go. Many councils have yet to shift on their uniform charge policies and some old-fashioned land value rates out there make for particularly bad reading.

You can count on Federated Farmers being back in council chambers early next year, trying to hold the lid on an already bulging pot.

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