Saturday, April 20, 2024

Ag keeps an anxious eye on regional rate rises

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Every council is ‘coming for the farmer’s wallet’, says Federated Farmers’ local government specialist.
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Concern is mounting as regional councils nationwide work through their long-term plans – with many forecasting a hefty double-digit rate rise.

“Every council is coming for the farmer’s wallet, we feel we have really had the whip taken to us,” Federated Farmers local government specialist Nigel Billings said.

“The struggles local governments are having with infrastructure is ending up farmers’ problem in rate bills.” 

Billings expects 17 regional consultations will go live this month and while councils normally have a June 30 timeline to adopt their long-term plan (LTP), this year they have until September 30, on account of the rollback of Three Waters.

“I am anticipating the process nationwide will be quite drawn out this year,” Billings said.        

“The LTP is important, but this time is a crunch year with all regional councils going hard on environment and infrastructure and the huge swing on Three Waters and what that uncertainty generates.”

Billings said there is more to be concerned about than just inflation.

“We are really concerned. This is not just about inflation or regulatory changes, but a lot of councils are losing their focus on core responsibilities.

“Regional councils are amongst economic development now and hence why we expect big rate increases coming, double digits for sure from most.

“Water, roading projects, general works –  when they planned for those three years ago it was in a different economic climate to now.”

Whatever regional councils impose is a problem for land.

“Farming is land-intensive with a lot of land involved so farmers have huge rate bills, easily in the tens of thousands of dollars.

“Every problem local government has ends up a farming problem.

“Farming communities are ballooning from a central government that’s failing and really needs sorting out.

“I have been in local government for 20 years and the situation seems to me to get more dire for councils with huge briefs – cultural, social, economic wellbeing of communities.

“I feel a big disconnect in funding arrangements in what local government is being asked to do and what they are doing.    

“The picture really is a messy one,” Billings said. 

Federated Farmers is working on the case he said.

“For Feds, because of the problem we have and the amount of rates an individual farm attracts from councils with aging infrastructure and broken balance sheets, this year is a big one and we are putting together a submission guide to help farmers engage with regional councils.

“We have Feds staff with good expertise to do a lot of the heavy lifting but farmers themselves are the ones in the box seat to be a good advocate,” Billings said. He encouraged farmers to have their say.          The Canterbury Regional Council has announced a proposed 24.2% rate increase to support its LTP for 2024-2034. 

This proposed increase is part of the council’s draft consultation document, which outlines a $346.3 million work package for the first year, aimed at addressing environmental and community needs.

The council is gearing up for a public consultation period from March 13 to April 14, inviting community feedback on its 10-year work plan and funding strategies. 

This will allow residents to express their priorities and concerns regarding the allocation of resources to various services, including environmental regulation and protection, community preparedness and response to hazards, and public transport.

“It’s been a real balance, as we weigh up the must-do work with affordability,” chair Peter Scott said.

He said the proposed rate increase reflects the council’s response to various pressures, including central government policies, community expectations, and environmental challenges. 

“The proposed rates rise reflects the full impact of the pressures regional government is under,” Scott said as he, too, urged ratepayers to engage in discussions. 

“We won’t know what trade-offs you’re prepared to make, or if you’re comfortable with where we’ve landed, unless you tell us.”

Taranaki Regional Council is proposing a 16.3% rate increase as it calls for the public’s views on key focus areas.

Decisions have to be made on six areas that are crucial to many of the work programmes, including freshwater, biodiversity, predator control and climate change adaptation.

Chair Charlotte Littlewood said the LTP will enable the council to respond to the gathering pace of regulatory reform and funding changes.

“We want as many people as possible to get involved with our community conversation and share their views on the big decisions we have to make,” Littlewood said. 

Feedback on Taranaki’s draft 2024-2034 LTP will run from March 10 to April 12, 2024.

Several more regional council LTP proposals are expected to land for consultation in the public arena as this month rolls on.

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