DCC rates policy may be unfair to Pakeha landowners

The Dunedin City Council's decision to develop a rates remission policy to take into account the special relationship Maori have with the land is interesting, writes Gerrard Eckhoff.

All Dunedin City Council ratepayers will, I'm sure, be sympathetic yet intrigued to understand the principle the council has employed that allows for rates remission for Maori freehold land and not producing revenue (ODT, 19.7.16).

It is a policy that will be embraced by most, if not all, ratepayers, as it sets a wonderful precedent. Cr Hillary Calvert sensibly noted DCC staff should develop policy which included non-Maori land as well for consideration.

It won't take long for most Dunedin residents to coherently argue the "special relationship'' they have with their freehold residential property should also qualify for rates relief, as their home and surroundings are unlikely to produce any revenue by which they can pay their rates, yet pay rates they must.

Currently, councils are very even-handed. Both Maori and non-Maori ratepayers are too often denied the opportunity to create some revenue from their property because of planning rules.

Residential properties' owners have often been refused council permission to gain some revenue through subdivision because of (say) a beautiful specimen tree growing on their land that is viewed by the council planners as a public asset. Little consideration, if any, is given to the long-suffering owner of the tree as to shading, roots blocking drains and lifting concrete.

This outstanding proposal of rates remission will surely produce rational claims for rates relief for all property owners and will be extremely popular with property owners and councillors alike - especially in a local government election year.

Cr Jinty MacTavish is quoted as saying this (rates remission) is a cultural issue and must be viewed as such. She comments: "This is because Maori see themselves as kaitiaki [guardians] of the land'' which implies the rest of us don't.

Really? Try telling farmers they have no cultural attachment to the land, despite making a conscious decision to live and work on and with the land.

If the issue is about fairness and justice, as Cr Neville Peat suggests, then perhaps such wonderful concepts must apply beyond one's ethnicity.

Where is the fairness and justice when governments force private freehold land to be "laid off'' along rivers where no marginal strip applies?

Where is the rates relief or compensation when councils identify and "appropriate'' valuable significant natural areas (SNAs) on private freehold land which effectively renders such private land as non-revenue producing public property. (The words "laid off'' and "appropriate'' have been skilfully developed to replace the words "stolen'', "filched'' and "pilfered'' - by government decree).

The great value of rates on the capital value of land to councils is that they are applied to all privately held land with very few exemptions. Exactly the same principle applies to the successful GST. If bread, butter and cheese was to be exempt, how is a cheese roll served in a cafe to be viewed? Or milk being exempt but not a milkshake? The same principle applies to this rates remission proposal.

Many people have developed a strong personal and cultural objection to paying tax and rates as they feel they don't get value for money, yet most recognise each of us must contribute to the rates take, based on the value of the land held in private ownership - which surely includes the highly successful and extensive Ngai Tahu Holdings, including their land not producing revenue.

-Gerrard Eckhoff, of Central Otago, is an Otago regional councillor.

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