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Rarked up ratepayers welcome SWDC’s review

South Wairarapa farmers are cautiously welcoming a rating review announced by South Wairarapa District Council [SWDC], saying the current system is unfair to rural ratepayers.

Farmers said the present rating system harms the sector, with one saying it’s a factor in rural depopulation.

SWDC has asked the community for feedback on a range of questions about the current system, including whether its basis should be capital or land value, whether the current rural road reserve [funded by rural ratepayers] should change to an infrastructure fund [funded by all ratepayers], and whether a new short-term accommodation levy should be introduced.

Consultation on the proposals opened late last week and will close in mid-October.

Typically, rural ratepayers have minimal access to refuse collection, provide their own water services, and seldom use urban footpaths.

In announcing the review, a statement from SWDC said it wants “to work with the community to decide on a better allocation of rates that meets South Wairarapa’s needs, now and in the future”.

Dan Riddiford is the fifth-generation owner and farmer of Te Awaiti Station in South Wairarapa.

The station is on the region’s remote south coast, in a rugged and often windswept area. Riddiford has previously said the rating system for his farm is unfair, and he and other farmers are being charged for things they get no benefit from.

“I welcome the First Principles Rates Review but am worried that it is not independent of the council itself.

“Justice delayed is justice denied since the savings will, at best, be implemented in August 2024 and much of the social damage to farming families has already occurred,” Riddiford said.

“Farmers are in survival mode, and something is going to snap. Staff are worked to the bone.

“The present rating distortions are so great that it has led to rural depopulation, and no pressure on the council to become more efficient.”

Riddiford is encouraging all rural residents to make a submission in writing and in person to the council on this issue.

Featherston farmer Jim Hedley said farmers are hard hit by the current policies.

“I just want to see them [SWDC] do a proper First Principles Review, and not shield the urban ratepayers from their responsibilities,” he said.

“A lot of the functions have nothing to do with land, and everything to do with people.

“The council needs to look at their staffing levels and salaries paid.

“I hope farmers put a lot of submissions in because we are the ones hit hardest and for little benefit.”

Policies under review include the remission policy, the remission and postponement of rates on Māori freehold land policy, and the revenue and Financing Policy, which sets how rates are structured.

According to the proposal documents, SWDC considered a number of issues in developing the draft revenue and financing policy, including community outcomes, social, economic, environmental, and cultural factors, legal issues, transparency and accountability, and the fair distribution of rates.

Questions SWDC has asked the community for feedback on include:
Do you agree with the council’s proposal to change the general rate to capital value from land value?

Do you agree with the council’s proposal that 90 per cent of the costs of footpaths should be paid by urban ratepayers and the remaining 10 per cent by the district as a whole?

Do you believe that dwellings used for short-stay accommodation should be included in the economic development rate?

People can submit feedback before 15 October by filling out the online feedback form on the SWDC website www.swdc.govt.nz, or emailing [email protected]

Public Interest Journalism funded through NZ On Air

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