Focus on the Land
Angry farmers tackle council
Friday, August 24, 2012
A LARGE contingent of farmers yesterday confronted district councillors over shock rate rises — each amounting to thousands of extra dollars.
Their arguments forced the council to reconsider its position.
There were warnings of legal action by Federated Farmers and individual landowners if nothing was done to reduce the impact, and questions over the transparency of the council’s consultation process.
Hexton farmer Graham Maclaurin said that when Mayor Meng Foon announced that the average rates rise would be 4.4 percent, he had neglected to add that some would be facing increases of up to 90 percent.
He asked the council whether they had seen any evidence such as from computer models that showed the impact of their rating method changes.
Others cited figures showing the increases had rendered their operations marginal, or in one case, running at a loss.
Neville Graham told them such unreasonable increases were contrary to normal business practice and way out of kilter with inflation.
After hearing from just five of them, several councillors conceded they had no idea from any of the computer modelling shown to them that there would be such extreme discrepancies in the rates strike.
It had been decided to consider the issue at a deliberative meeting in private, after the council meeting.
Pat Seymour asked if there were any options that would enable those affected to pay only a portion of their rates without incurring penalties.
People were being asked to pay an exorbitant amount.
Some of it was due to the redistribution of targeted rates but she believed other rates should be levied on land area, not land value.
Nor should there be an inner rural zone.
Of particular concern to some of those who addressed the council yesterday were the significant increases in their levies for rural fires and pest control, and the appearance of two new ones.
Mr Maclaurin said his rural fire charge had increased 450 percent, from $497 to $2750; his pest control charge had gone up 45 percent to $1065. He questioned what service he was getting for this.
There were two new items — a $457 fee for building services and $1947 for “soil conservation advocacy”. He had asked staff what these were for but had been given a very vague and dismissive response.
Federated Farmers Gisborne president Hamish Cave said farmers would have turned out in their droves to make submissions on these increases, had they been flagged in consultation documents.
Instead, the council had stated it wished to limit any variations to between 3.1 and 5.5 percent.
These massive increases contradicted the stated aims of the council.
The organisation’s senior policy advisors considered the reported increases to be a breach of the Bill of Rights.
Matokitoki Valley farmer and former councillor Gary Hope earlier told councillors there were precedents for legal action, in which the courts had struck out unreasonable rate rises such as the 90 percent increase he and his wife were facing for their 436ha farm, spread over six separate tiles.
He was already struggling to pay the $19,000 rates bill last year and could not afford the $36,580 sought this year.
RATES REVOLT: About 50 farmers listen intently as their anger over rates rises of up to 90 percent — for a small group of front-country farmers — is outlined to councillors. Pictures by Paul Rickard
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