Cut our rates bill: Meridian

Meridian Energy wants up to half a million dollars slashed from its Waitaki District Council rates bill, a better than 50% reduction.

The electricity giant is targeting councils across the country where it has generation assets to lower the rates the company has to pay.

''Meridian would prefer not to litigate,'' Meridian planning strategy manager Andrew Feierabend told the district council yesterday when asked how resolute the company was about getting rates reduced.

Mr Feierabend was making verbal submissions on Waitaki's long-term plan at a council hearing.

Waitaki is the first council Meridian has challenged in the South Island after a nationwide review of 10-year long-term plans.

Also in its sights are Environment Canterbury and Environment Southland and the Waimate, Mackenzie and Southland district councils.

The company had identified what seemed to be ''a mighty difference'' between what it was being asked to pay compared with others, Mr Feierabend said.

It was ''open to discussions'' about how the council might reduce the company's rates.

Cr June Slee, whose Ahuriri ward hosts the generation assets, said she was ''horrified'' by the submissions.

''Meridian owes the people of the Waitaki Valley a lot, forever,'' she said.

The company will pay Waitaki $937,000 rates this coming financial year for its five Waitaki power stations.

Its rates have increased 16% above the average Waitaki rate rises for the past five years.

It wants that reduced substantially.

Some of what Meridian contributes goes back to an agreement in the early 1990s between what was then the Electricity Corporation of New Zealand and the council, to avoid costly High Court litigation in which other councils were involved.

Now, Meridian wants the Waitaki council to reduce the rates it pays for lakes camping grounds, roading and civil defence.

Meridian wants more than $330,000 cut from its $413,000 roading rate. It pays 5% of the district's total roading rate and wants that cut to 1%.

Mr Feierabend said Meridian used only two council roads, apart from state highways funded by the Government.

An $11.5 million dairy farm in the district paid $15,000 in roading rates, he said.

''Should Meridian be paying 27 times more?''Meridian also wants to stop paying $151,309 in rates for the lakes camping grounds. The figure is 70% of the total rate for the grounds.

Meridian said the camping beneficiaries were people and there was an economic benefit for the community from tourism.

The cost should be spread among all ratepayers in the district as part of the uniform annual charge.

It wants the 25% share of the total civil defence rate, amounting to $37,000 a year, reduced to 11% or less.

The present differential was too high, given the limited control Meridian had over hazards in the district, Mr Feierabend said.

Its operations also had a positive effect in managing floods in the Waitaki River, he said.

Meridian posted an underlying after-tax profit of $194.6 million for its full-year result to June last year.

For its following six months operating to December, it posted an underlying after-tax profit of $114.8 million, compared with its previous profit, to December 2013, of $83 million.

david.bruce@odt.co.nz

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