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‘Crisis moment’ for rural ratepayers

A South Wairarapa farmer is withholding part of his rates payments to protest a system he believes brings him and other rural ratepayers little, if any, benefit.

The news comes as South Wairarapa District Council [SWDC] holds public hearings as part of a consultation process on its annual plan, which proposes an overall average rates rise of 15.9 per cent, with rural ratepayers facing a 29 per cent hike.

SWDC said the proposed rise is due to dramatic increases in the cost of the services it provides across three towns, together with ageing infrastructure and buildings needing maintenance.

“We only have a small ratepayer base of a little over 7300 compared to the size of our district, and these costs need to be spread across that small base,” the council said on its website.

Dan Riddiford was one of 27 ratepayers scheduled to speak to the council yesterday about the impact of the proposals, with a total of 180 written submissions received. He revealed his partial rates boycott in a lengthy written submission.

Riddiford said he has had enough and has been withholding part of his rates for the past six periods, or 18 months.

“This is a crisis moment,” he told the Times-Age ahead of the hearing.

“The focus of my submission today is to highlight that the district council’s rating policies are heavily biased against farmers and rural families generally. The policies are even more biased against very remote farmers, where the rapid increase in land values due to carbon policies will rate them off the land.”

Riddiford believes the rating policies do not follow relevant legislation and should, therefore, be unenforceable.

The fifth-generation farmer is one of the district’s biggest ratepayers. He said he and others have made submissions to South Wairarapa District Council [SWDC] about what they consider to be an unfair rates structure since 2020, to no avail.

In the year to the end of June 2021, Riddiford’s rates liability was $48,780, in 2022 it was $54,228, and this year he is up for $45,439. He believes the council are in breach of a requirement under the Local Government Act to assess benefits provided before assessing rates.

“I have asked the council for a benefits-focused rates review, but despite promises made, it hasn’t happened.”

Riddiford expects the situation to get worse this September when new property valuations could increase the value of his land exponentially, on the basis of its possible value for forestry.

“In that case, we would be expected to pay about $250,000 a year in rates. We would be rated off the land,” he said.

“Retention of rates has been my last resort in an effort to have a proper discussion with the council.

“Each time I withhold rates, I attach a letter of explanation in the hope the district council would be compelled to think about the effect of rates increases in return for no benefits received.

“The obvious effect is rural depopulation and more pine trees planted for no local benefit,” Riddiford said.

“I think other ratepayers might soon also start to withhold rates in a similar way.

“I have taken this action in a principled way in an effort to have a proper discussion and hopefully a change of these policies that have the unintended consequence of eviscerating rural New Zealand.”

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