Levies increased for new fire authority

02:22, Jul 04 2012

Marlborough small forest owners are questioning the fairness and accuracy of levies to fund an enlarged Marlborough Kaikoura Rural Fire Authority which started operating this week.

Forest owners must contribute $36,000 towards authority expenses in its first year of operation, says a letter from authority board chairman Mark Wheeler, of the Marlborough District Council. Enclosed was a dummy invoice for the levy owed by each owner, based on their forest area.

Mr Wheeler said forest areas were drawn from council databases, which might not be accurate. Forest owners should get back to the authority to correct any mistakes.

An anonymous forest owner contacted the Marlborough Express to say big companies were being charged less than their share of costs.

Contributions are calculated at between $2.81 per hectare for the owner of a 21ha forest block to roughly 2 cents per hectare for Nelson Pine which, according to the Marlborough Forest Industry Association (MFIA) database, owns nearly 20,000ha of the 71,400ha of forest in Marlborough.

Vern Harris, who represents the MFIA on the authority board, said the levy money covered extra administration, firefighter training and public education but not firefighting costs.

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The cost of servicing each owner was roughly the same, regardless of the size of their forest.

Forest owners would meet 13 per cent of additional costs excluding firefighting, while the Marlborough District Council would meet 47 per cent, the Conservation Department 30 per cent and the Kaikoura District Council 10 per cent.

The authority consulted with organisations including MFIA and Federated Farmers to determine how it would operate and be funded, said Mr Harris.

People had until Friday to give feedback and formal invoices would be sent out in early July.

Chris Dawkins, of the Marlborough Farm Forestry Association, said to the best of his knowledge, the organisation of about 50 members had not been consulted on the levy.

His dummy invoice was for double the area of exotic trees growing on his Waihopai Valley farm, as riparian plantings or erosion control were meant to be exempt.

"I have found the correspondence received so far confusing and ambiguous," he said.

"But I guess this is a work in progress and it is difficult to be fair to all people." Of all land uses in Marlborough, Mr Dawkins questioned why forestry was singled out to pay a large chunk of authority expenses.

Mr Wheeler said forestry had a high fire hazard rating compared with other land uses which came under the council banner.

The council contribution to authority costs would come from adding about $5 to $10 to rural rates bills, he said. This would be revisited as part of the next annual plan review.

"We have an open mind on the future breakdown ... on how its levy is divided," said Mr Wheeler.

"That applies to council share of rates as well as forestry share."

Kaikoura Star