Rates paid by farmers main topic at candidates' forum

Farmers' rates rises were the hot topic at a public forum for Waitaki mayoralty and Corriedale ward candidates held on Wednesday night at Five Forks.

The meeting was organised by North Otago Federated Farmers and was attended by 22 people and 11 candidates, which included two standing for the Otago Regional Council's Moeraki constituency.

This year the council increased overall rates by 2.65%. But because of new property valuations, farmers, particularly dairy, with high capital values faced rates rises of 30% or more. In contrast, council took less money from most residential properties.

This disparity has prompted, from the rural sector, calls for the council's rating structure to be changed, and these calls have been supported by all the candidates.

The four mayoral candidates, incumbent Alex Familton and challengers Ralph Burrell, Bruce Cawley and Waitaki deputy mayor Gary Kircher, all acknowledged the issue in their opening addresses.

The five Corriedale ward candidates - sitting councillor Alistair Mavor and challengers Geoff Keeling, Kevin Malcolm, Derek Austin and Allan Jones - also touched on rural rates.

Candidates mentioned ties they had with the rural sector.

Mr Familton said the 2.65% overall rates increase was the lowest in Otago, but acknowledged the effect had been greater on farms, particularly dairy, and that needed to be addressed.

Mr Cawley said paying the rates was difficult for the district and farmers paid even more.

He believed farmers should not have to pay for things they did not use.

Mr Kircher said he would promote a rates review because farmers were paying too much for things like public toilets, economic development and tourism. The rating system needed to be fair.

Mr Burrell said farmers were troubled by the level of rates they were paying. He wanted to see farming progress and develop, not penalised by paying higher rates when the value of farms increased.

After rates, issues discussed included candidates promising one thing and then, when they were councillors, voting for another; the need to grow the district so there were more ratepayers and repayment of the $10 million lent to the North Otago Irrigation Company by the council.

The regional council candidates, incumbent Doug Brown and challenger Ben Hopkins, were questioned mainly about environmental issues, including that of dairy farms being given large fines if they unlawfully discharged effluent.

- david.bruce@odt.co.nz


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