Long-term Plan season under way

By Nick Clark, Federated Farmers General policy manager

Ever-escalating council rates are a perennial gripe for farmers.

While the government is signalling change right now Federated Farmers' staff and elected representatives are going into bat around the country for farmers on rates, as councils from the Far North to Invercargill release their long-term financial plans.

Every year councils must consult their communities on their annual budgets and the setting of rates and Federated Farmers usually submits to around 70 of our 78 regional, city and district councils.

This year councils are also consulting on their long-term plans (LTP).

This often involves reviews of funding and rating policies which can have an immediate impact on farms.

While the level and substance of council spending is very important, Federated Farmers has a particular interest in the funding and rating policies.

Hard experience has taught us that no matter what the level of spending, reliance on land and capital value rates to fund general council activities will always result in farmers paying a disproportionate amount compared to other sectors.

Federated Farmers has a 10K Rates Club open for any farmer paying more than $10,000 per year in general rates.

It's a club no-one wants to belong to, but we have a large number of members spread across the country. Our largest member pays a staggering $167,000.

The Federation sees this year's LTP season as a good opportunity to seek improvements to rating systems to ease the heavy burden on farmers.

Some of the councils we work with have good rating systems already and are focused on keeping rates down. Others need a lot of work. Getting improvements with them is not easy and sometimes just preserving the status quo counts as a 'win'.

Around council tables, farmers are usually a small minority up against the majority who so often clamour for more services and amenities, but are saved from bearing the cost by the rating system.

In many areas Federated Farmers is the only group consistently submitting to councils for both reductions in spending and a more equitable and transparent allocation of rates.

This year Federated Farmers will be urging councils to keep rates increases within the rate of inflation and to ensure their costs are funded by rates set according to the benefit ratepayers get from council services.

Councils have a range of tools to achieve this end: uniform annual charges, targeted rates, differentials and user pays.

Federated Farmers also seeks itemised rates assessments from councils telling people exactly how much they are paying for council services and can assess the value for money.

Federated Farmers has built a good track record advancing the cause of better and more modern rating systems that strike a better balance between farmers and the rest of the community.

Some councils make great use of some or all of these tools, but we want to lift all councils to the same level.

To find out what's happening in your area, call 0800 327 646 and ask to speak to your regional policy advisor.

- Hamilton News

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