Rotorua farmers up in arms over rate increases

Neil Heather

Rotorua farmers up in arms over rate increases

By Daniel O’Mahony
Wednesday 22 April, 2015, Rotorua Daily Post

Rotorua farmers claim their industry is being unfairly targeted by the Rotorua Lakes Council for high rates increases, with one describing proposals as an attempt to “milk a cash cow that doesn’t have any cash”.

However, the council says the proposed increases are driven by property revaluations, and farmers are not being asked to pay for services they don’t use. The council’s Long-term Plan consultation document includes a 7 per cent average rates increase for ratepayers in the coming year. However, farmers can expect to see their rates shoot up by an average of 19 per cent. Other business rates would rise by an average of 11 per cent under the plan, which is expected to go out for public consultation this week.

Neil Heather, committee member and former president of the Rotorua/Taupo branch of Federated Farmers, said the proposed increase in farmers’ rates was “totally unreasonable”.”We don’t mind paying our fair share to run the council, the library, the Aquatic Centre … but it is a disproportionate amount that farmers need to pay,” Mr Heather said.

He denounced the document’s suggestion that farmers should contribute 17 per cent of general rates, when, according to Federated Farmers figures, they made up only 6 per cent of Rotorua’s population. In his view, this small group was being asked to bail out a council struggling to balance its books – a predicament for which Mr Heather had little sympathy. “Any other business has to cut costs. It [the council] should be allowed to go broke and commissioners should be brought in.”

A Federated Farmers meeting to discuss the proposed rates will be held tomorrow and Mr Heather said an important first step would be the formation of a farmer ratepayers’ group.”We have got to be pro-active right at the beginning, so we need to rally the troops and try to get the council thinking in a different way,” he said.

The council’s chief financial officer, Thomas Colle, said the proposed increase in farming rates was largely driven by property revaluations conducted this year.” The farming sector is most significantly and widely affected by this year’s general revaluation with dairying property valuations up 20 per cent but pastoral down 8.4 per cent on average. The flow-on effect on rates is a wide band of variation,” Mr Colle said.

Farms made up 24 per cent of the district’s total property value, the measure on which general rates contribution was based. He said targeted rates meant farmers did not pay for services which they did not benefit from, such as rubbish collection and sewerage. “We will be looking to hold a session with the farming community regarding the changes to rates which are being considered and look forward to those discussions,” Mr Colle said. “There is also an opportunity for changes to be made via the Long-term Plan consultation process through submissions and hearings.”

Karen Fisken owns a 630ha multi-titled dairy farm at Te Kopia Rd in Waikite Valley with her husband Bob. She said they currently paid “well into the $20,000s” in rates to the district council – and news of the proposed rate hikes had come at a time when business was tough.

“It’s milking a cash cow that doesn’t have any cash,” Mrs Fisken said. “It doesn’t help our cause at all. “They [the council] should be helping us out, not flogging a dead horse.”