WHAT’S ON IN COUNCIL THIS WEEK - NO formal meetings this week but some of us will be spending a fair bit of time playing around with rates problems.
We obviously made a bit of a booboo at the last rates strike and hammered some ratepayers much harder than we meant to. We were indeed aiming to shift some costs more on to the properties we perceived to be getting off lightly, but we mucked it up a bit. Seventy percent of ratepayers are probably sitting quiet as a mouse right now, because they came out of it pretty well, but some got horrible results and we are working to retrieve that situation.
Damned hard to explain because rates are very complicated, and even at the best of times you can’t sweet talk someone whose rates have just gone up ten or twenty thousand bucks — they’re not feeling particularly reasonable!
OK, I used to be a teacher, if anyone can explain it in reasonably simple terms, it ought to be me, so I’ll have a go. Gulp.
First, understand that rating systems are, like all taxation systems, rather a blunt instrument. Second, I hope you will accept my word (because I tell you the truth, like it or not) that no other council in the country spends as much time and heartache on rates as we do.
Instead of just dumping various costs on to the undifferentiated capital value rate, which is the default position of most councils, we agonise over ways to target beneficiaries and exacerbators, to be as fair as possible. As a result we collect less in undifferentiated capital value rates than any other council in the land, and we explain our rates better than any other council. No bull. We are a shining example to most councils.
But, two-edged sword — the more you target your rates to those who deserve them, the more risk you run of cocking it up. Which we did. And that’s as much my fault as anyone else’s; maybe more so, because I’m supposed to be the bloke who knows it all.
We fell apart in three main areas. The easiest to explain is probably the cost centre generally called plant and animal pests — possums, privet, goats, rabbits, thistles, blackberry, all that sort of stuff. About a million dollars a year. Largely a rural thing, and traditionally paid for largely by rural ratepayers. But we spend a few bob in the city, too, and we tried to recognise that by assigning 5 percent of the costs to the city.
I added that up in my head, three or four bucks per city ratepayer, no problem.
But we also assigned 5 percent to DRA1A (the peri-urban area) and DRA2 (the Flats, basically). Sounded reasonable, still left 85 percent to real rural, so I didn’t run that through the head computer. Didn’t think, hang on, on a land area basis that means the likes of Gary Hope, close to the city, with 400-odd hectares, would pay four-thousand times the average quarter acre section. Whoops.
Three or four bucks is OK, a hundred times three or four bucks is OK because he owns a lot of land. But four thousand times three or four bucks is, um, ouch!
True, nobody else thought of it either, but I am kind of supposed to be the person with the mathematical mind, so I have to accept a fair chunk of the responsibility. I’m sorry for the stress this will have caused some ratepayers. We will fix it up. Mind you, you’ll probably still get rate rises, just not stupidly high ones, hopefully.
What is it I say sometimes? “Trust me, I’m a councillor”. Oh dear!