'Peasants' fight rates burden

MATHEW GROCOTT
Last updated 12:00 09/05/2013

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Farmers say they are being treated like "peasants" by Horowhenua District Council, with unfair rates burdens aimed at keeping the cost down for Levin residents.

A number of farmers spoke at the council's draft Annual Plan hearings last night, calling the rating system unfair and too harsh for farmers.

"HDC's attitude reminds us of the Sheriff of Nottingham," Horowhenua Farmers' Ratepayer Group secretary Christine Mitchell said.

"You sit here in your castle and expect the surrounding peasants to fund Levin's lifestyle."

The council needed to reduce the rating burden and prioritise what was necessary.

"We know it's hard to do, but if you haven't got the money, you have to make the hard decisions."

In the "real world", she said, people looked for ways to cut their spending when times were tough.

"They stick to the basics - drink instant coffee, or even tap water. They don't go out and take the money off their neighbours."

There were just 603 agricultural businesses in Horowhenua, she said, yet they paid 31 per cent of the council's roading rate. In return, farmers got roads past their gates but not the kerbs and channelling or streetlights that were provided in urban areas.

Those 603 properties also paid 31 per cent of the stormwater rates.

"HDC manages 116 kilometres of stormwater pipes and 10 water pump stations. This infrastructure mainly benefits urban and township dwellers. Most farmers sort out their own drainage."

Speaking on behalf of Federated Farmers, Mangaore farmer Geoff Kane said the average 8 per cent rates increase was "totally unacceptable to the farming community".

There was too much reliance on the general rate, he said. This rate, calculated based on land value, is increasing by 22 per cent in the draft Annual Plan.

Kane said using land value meant farmers paid more than their share for items such as parks and reserves, civil defence, stormwater and roads.

"We feel our rates are going up unproportionally to others every year."

Levin farmer Peter Everton said that across the farms he owned he paid more than $7000 a year for parks and reserves.

There were multimillion-dollar companies on small sections of land in the district, Everton said, employing hundreds of people, who would pay far less for parks and reserves than he did.

"I don't mind paying my fair share," he said. "If it was a targeted rate, it would be a lot fairer."

Mayor Brendan Duffy said the rural sector had raised concerns about the rating system before and some changes were made last year.

The council had had discussions with interested groups last year on the rating system but those from the rural and urban sector could not come to agreement.

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"We will look at it seriously. I wish we had a magic wand, I wish we had a different source of revenue other than rates and charges but we don't."

- Manawatu Standard

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