Rate remissions needed: farmers

Federated Farmers say huge rate rises for rural properties in Waitaki this year could have been mitigated had concerns raised by farmers been heeded sooner.

Earlier this month, the Waitaki District Council (WDC) set an average rate increase of 3.9% across the district, and although the figure was 0.8% lower than budgeted in the district's 10-year plan, some farmers will face bills of more than

$30,000 because rates are now being set according to property values.

Details included in the council's draft annual plan indicated some rural properties faced rate rises of between 16% and 25%, and Waitaki Mayor Alex Familton acknowledged ''more work'' was needed to help people faced with increases ''well above the average''.

Although the council last week agreed to look into the issue of rural rates remissions in the future, Mr Familton said government legislation demanded the council follow a formula for determining rates based on property values.

That meant adjustments could not be made without ''a lengthy consultation process'', he said.

''Council was requested by Federated Farmers at last [draft annual plan] submissions to set a 7% increase threshold ... ''Council accepted the suggestion and examined, without delay, ways to put this into effect before June 30, by which time, again by legislation, the budgets and rates must be finalised.''

However, it was not possible to fit the legislative consultation process into the time available before finalising the draft annual plan budget for 2013-14.

He said the problem of large and sudden rate increases was a nationwide issue and suggested Federated Farmers and the Government ''put their heads together'' to negotiate a solution.

However, Federated Farmers regional policy adviser David Cooper said council representatives had first been told of farmers' concerns at a Federated Farmers North Otago executive meeting in March, and then again during draft annual plan submissions and hearings in April and May.

There had been ''plenty of time'' to develop and consult on a solution, he said.

''Overall, I respectfully disagree with Mayor Familton in respect to the statements that council cannot do anything this year, and that it is a central government issue rather than one the council should be addressing.

''Rates are paid in instalments, and Waitaki District Council has the option of going through a consultation procedure which would still reduce the amount of rates paid by these properties in this rating year.

"This is something Queenstown Lakes District Council did last year.

''So WDC could implement a process right now to reduce the amount of rates paid for the second and third instalments in this rating year.''

Mr Cooper agreed that the largest increases noted in the draft plan impacted more than ''just'' the farming sector, but added some rural properties were forecast to pay rates bills that ranged from just under $19,000 to just over $34,000.

''The increases these properties are facing alone will exceed what the average residential ratepayer will be paying in total this year.''

Both Mr Cooper and Mr Familton said they were willing to discuss the issue.

Cr Peter Garvan yesterday also moved to clarify comments attributed to him during draft annual plan discussions on June 5, and pointed out his ''frustration'' and comments related to councillors who advocated a rates remission policy which had no robust criteria.

''I did not accuse councillors of delays with regard to addressing the issue of outstanding rate issues.''

- andrew.ashton@odt.co.nz


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