Rangitīkei District Council wants to introduce higher rates for forestry land owners to help fund the repair of roads damaged by forestry vehicles.
The council's preference was a 50 per cent increase on the roading targeted rate for properties classified as forestry, as outlined in the 2022-23 annual plan, corporate services group manager Dave Tombs said.
"This approach has been taken by a number of other local authorities in New Zealand, such as in the Whanganui and Wairoa districts," he said.
According to the annual plan, the rates income (including GST) for 2022-23 is $31 million, $9m of which is from the roading targeted rate.
Tombs said if the proposed differential was introduced for the 2022-23 financial year, it would have resulted in an additional $50,000 (excluding GST, rounded) income.
However, following public submissions on the annual plan, the council now wanted to consider other options.
Currently, the other option was to continue paying for forestry-generated roading issues from the council's current roading budgets, Tombs said.
"This would require all ratepayers to contribute the extra costs associated with the forestry activity, resulting in higher rates for all.
"But we want to hear what other options are available."
Earlier in the year, the council asked the public to submit feedback on the proposed differential.
Of those who submitted, 18 supported introducing the differential, 11 wanted the status quo and seven were marked as "other", Tombs said.
Of the submissions that did not support the differential, multiple comments said the proposed differential was unfair.
"There are a range of other road users, forestry operations only occur once
every 25-30 years, roading rates are being paid during this time," one submitter said.
Due to the submissions, the council postponed the decision and will undertake further targeted consultation with the forestry sector and iwi before the 2023-24 financial year, Tombs said.
"All ratepayers contribute towards the cost of repairing roads via the road targeted rates.
"Where it is recognised that a sector of the community causes more damage than others, a rate differential means they would pay a higher proportion of the repair costs."
Most road users pay levies on the price of their fuel, and others, such as drivers of light diesel vehicles and diesel-powered heavy vehicles like trucks, pay through road user charges (RUC).
The revenue collected from road user charges goes into the National Land Transport Fund (NLTF), which funds road improvements and maintenance, public transport, road safety, and walking and cycling.
Forest Owners Association president Grant Dodson said the association was extremely concerned about the differential rate.
"All land users pay rates on rural land, and forestry is often paying rates during a 25-year forestry cycle while barely using the roads."
He said it was about finding a balance and a fair rating structure.
"Forestry land use has been paying rates for 25-30 years, and sometimes a lot longer, so why are the roads not fit for purpose?
"The industry needs to pay its way, but the council need to come to a fair approach."
The association also recognised there was massive underfunding of rural roads in New Zealand and wanted that to be addressed, Dodson said.
"In many cases, that's why forestry stands up and often repairs what are effectively public roads.
"We do understand the rural road network is under significant financial pressure for maintenance. But we don't have a differential rate for dairy farms, sheep and beef, sports grounds or horticulture - so why is forestry being picked out?"
In his submission, John Turkington Ltd forestry owner John Turkington said any differential should only be applied as a targeted rate to roading charges for land classified as forestry as opposed to a general differential rate.
"We understand the rationale for a differential is to address forestry-specific impacts (typically associated with log transportation) on the council's roading network," Turkington submitted, saying it was an important consideration for the fairness and proportionality of the rating method.
Tombs said the first public consultation event would be at Hunterville Town Hall from 5 - 6.30pm on Tuesday, November 15.
"If you would like to share your thoughts, feedback and ideas, we invite you to join us alongside Mayor Andy Watson and other council staff."