By Toby Williams
President, Gisborne Wairoa Federated Farmers
It’s frustrating and very disappointing that Federated Farmers’ submissions on Gisborne District Council and Wairoa District Council rates issues have largely fallen on deaf ears.
We certainly highlighted the unfairness and inconsistency of some of their proposals, both in comprehensive written submissions and in person when I and several senior Feds policy advisors attended their hearings.
In both cases the councils seemed to be receptive to our concerns. Unfortunately, when it came down to the vote, they hardly budged from their proposals.
The one significant win was the Wairoa council’s decision to reduce the rating factor for farms down from 1.0 to 0.7. While the overall effect on individual farms won’t be known until the first of the 2021/22 rates bills are issued, for some farmers this reduction will save them hundreds of dollars on what would otherwise have been.
The sense of frustration from our membership and the wider rural community that our concerns were not taken more seriously is not lost on me. But it’s clear that because of our relatively small voting base, cash-strapped councils are tempted to use rural ratepayers as “cash cows”.
Elected councillors come from all sorts of backgrounds and bring different skills and perspectives. They can be pulled in all directions and sometimes it must seem a thankless task. The adage that you can’t make all of the people happy all of the time rings true here.
Councillors get a lot of information thrown at them and are then charged with making the best overall decision for the community. It must be hard for them to ignore their re-election prospects and I think that sometimes leads to reluctance to make hard or unpopular decisions. So have these decisions on rating been a case of “I cannot lose my seat at the table if I vote in favour of this”?
I appreciate and acknowledge the courage shown by the WDC in their decision to change the way they calculate their rate bills. But I do not agree with the outcomes and obviously would have preferred they took more heed of the feedback from affected rural ratepayers and us at Feds.
There’s a trend around the nation to put more of the burden of funding provincial council costs onto rural ratepayers. Farmers and others expect to pay a fair share of rates and want our communities to be the best that they can be. But it’s grossly unfair to be made to pay for services we don’t receive. Changes to the three waters funding (from targeted rates to general rates) and the reduction of specific rates to fund rural roading are a kick in the guts.
And how do we help our councils understand that changes to how “carbon forests” are rated are necessary?
A major threat to the prosperity of our communities is the conversion of pastural farmland to permanent carbon forests. These farms are bought at inflated prices, pushing up the prices of the neighbours’ and districtwide farm prices. They are then planted and revalued at the “forestry” value for rating purposes. This means that only the value of the land is used NOT the value of the trees. This put further burden on pastural farm rates.
One solution is that the trees planted for this purpose only be rated as an income earning asset – the same way as citrus, apples, grapes, kiwifruit, etc, are currently treated.
Seems fair, but as always at Federated Farmers we welcome your thoughts and positive solutions.