Popularity, fairness tricky to sort out

WARWICK RASMUSSEN
Last updated 12:00 12/02/2013

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OPINION: There are a number of ways councils make their money, and it's fair to say none of them is very popular.

But there's a difference between popular and fair.

A uniform rate across a large group of people is widely accepted as a fair way of raising funds to pay for public utilities and facilities.

Any rise in that amount each year, percentage-wise, goes under intense scrutiny via the annual plan process.

Items that ratepayers fork out money for all add up, line by line. Some make the cut, others are ditched.

Less obvious are development contribution levies. This is effectively a tax that is imposed on people or businesses who want to do, well, anything to their property.

On the smaller scale, this means an additional room added to a house, while at the other end we have subdivisions on new land that has no infrastructure built in.

The levy system never gets much air time because it seemingly affects fewer people and those who are paying it earn enough, so can afford it.

But is that fair? Well, no it isn't.

Such policies, ruled by central government and dealt with by councils, need to be regularly reviewed.

Housing Minister Nick Smith and Local Government Minister Chris Tremain are rightly looking at all options to make sure the way the levies are collected is fair and even relevant.

It makes sense to look at these rules because they have to move with the times. Economies work in cycles. When things are going well, it might very well make sense to enforce higher levies, but when the money dries up a different approach needs to be taken to ensure a healthy climate where businesses can start up and developments flourish.

Councils will be naturally resistant to what has been a bit of a cash cow up until now. But, again, the way the money raised has to be fair.

Of course there must be scrutiny over how public money is raised and spent, but there still has to be some incentive for people and businesses to set up or build rather than a big bill as a starting point.

ONE MORE THING

A deluge of spam emails from what seemed like trusted accounts over the past few days have helped remind us all how annoying and potentially dangerous such messages can be.

Any message that seems out of the ordinary or unusual, even from a trusted source or contact needs to be given extra scrutiny. Vigilance is the price we must pay and even a momentary lapse can cause a huge number of headaches.

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- Manawatu Standard

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