New Zealand

Mayor suggests govt pay rates on Crown land

As councils struggle with rising costs, a North Canterbury mayor has suggested charging the government for rates on Crown land.

Some councils are also looking at hotel bed taxes and congestion taxes to raise much needed revenue, but Hurunui mayor Marie Black said she would rather see the Crown paying rates like other landowners.

The Department of Conservation (DOC) estate made up a significant proportion of the Hurunui district’s footprint.

‘‘We have to maintain access, so we believe the government should be paying its share. When you look at Lake Sumner Road, it costs the ratepayer to maintain it and you have DOC land at the end of the road not paying rates.’’

However, Black said she would not want to see local schools adversely impacted by a such a rates policy.

Conservation land is generally not rateable, and any introduction of charges would require a law change, a DOC spokesperson said.

Many councils are feeling the pinch of rising costs, while also under pressure to keep rate rises affordable.

A Supreme Court decision earlier this year paved the way for Auckland and Queenstown Lakes District councils to introduce a hotel bed tax.

Meanwhile, National hinted at legislation to allow the main centres to collect a congestion tax.

Hurunui District Council chief executive Hamish Dobbie said neither tax would make much difference to his council.

“You may get some extra revenue out of tourists, but it may end up hurting local operators.

‘‘I’m not sure whether a bed tax is the best solution. Our businesses fund our tourism promotion and that seems to be reasonably stable.’’

Waimakariri District Council chief executive Jeff Millward agreed, but said allowing councils to retain the GST on rates would ease the burden on ratepayers.

‘‘There is definitely a need to have a look at the rating system to make it fairer.

‘‘The old question is often raised whether GST should be on rates and whether it should be retained by councils. It would make a sizeable difference to us.”

Kaikōura District Council chief executive Will Doughty said he would be keen to explore some form of local tourism levy.

The population of Kaikōura is just 3900, plus holiday homes, but there were more than a million annual visitors to the district.

‘‘A very small additional contribution from each visitor could make a significant difference for us.’’

Charging rates on Crown land would also help as a large proportion of the district was under the DOC estate, he said.

‘‘Given our small population size anything that helps ease the continued burden to the ratepayers is good with us.’’

A Department of Conservation spokesperson said paying rates was subject to legislation, so it would be up to the government to decide.

“Generally, conservation land is non-rateable under the Local Government (Rating) Act 2002 and subject only to targeted rates.”

Targeted rates can be set for water supply, sewage disposal or rubbish collection that is provided in relation to the land.

“So it would require a change to the law, which would be up to the government.”

National local government spokesperson Simon Watts said he was unable to comment while coalition negotiations with the ACT and NZ First parties were continuing.

– By David Hill
Local Democracy Reporter

Public interest journalism funded through New Zealand on Air.

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