By Trevor Ammundsen.
I was cajoled into attending a TCDC Planning Meeting recently, a meeting whereby the public can supposedly have some input into the planning process of our local council. Several people of various persuasions were present, and we were split into groups to “come up with ideas” which we had to describe with one line of scrawl. Nobody picked anything to plan for that took more than half a dozen words.
I asked if we could know the starting point; what plans were already on the list. This was kept secret though, apparently, we would be told what the staff had put on the list when they needed more rates from us. Which brings me to the point of this pondering, our annual rates bill. A TCDC staff member did let us know that the ten-year review of our rates was due in 2024 and we could make submissions on that as part of this planning process.
A late member of our group was an old schoolteacher. My parents were both schoolteachers so I could pick her background immediately. Am not sure if it’s the way she demanded the Group Member’s names before she sat down, the way she wielded her ruler or the way she instructed me to put my hand up if I wanted to leave the room; but her background was obvious. I am older now however, so I could raise my eyes from the floor and talk to her as an equal, once she gave me permission. But I digress, the Teacher’s issue that she wanted to raise was rates, in particular the perceived lack of fairness in the present system as well as the amount that was being demanded by the TCDC. These amounts can be significant, for our teacher it was almost 20 weeks of superannuation. This is significant for anybody, but unaffordable if your sole income is superannuation.
One wonders how this situation can arise, but a reading of your rates assessment gives you the information you need. There are various calculation items on your rates assessment which when added together, sum up to your annual rates bill. Many of these items are based on one or other of your property valuations (capital, land etc) but a significant number are based upon SUIP. This means Separately Used or Inhabited Part of a rating unit. In essence, anything the council considers to be another dwelling - a downstairs apartment, a granny flat or whatever. It is an attempt to charge based upon usage and to use property characteristics to determine usage.
The presumption that you can determine the usage of facilities by looking at a property is quite moronic in my view. For example, we have four bathrooms, but there are generally only two of us here. Our teacher has one bathroom, but the council considers she has two dwellings. On the other hand, you have people with multiple accommodation units on their property but limited bathroom facilities, so they incur no extra charges. Have I already used the term moronic? It makes you shake your head.
This form of rating is quite wrong and blatantly unfair. If you wish to charge based upon usage, measure the usage and charge based upon those measurements. We are already having water metres installed to measure water usage, which is fine. Charge us accordingly. But stormwater, wastewater etc should be metered and measured with charges based upon actual usage. The only negative I can see is the neighbours sneaking over to use our toilets all the time to keep their bill down. They are a tight bunch.
There is another form of usage charging which is also grossly unfair, a virtual misuse of power. This is the rubbish collection charges which are mandatory on all properties even though you may not use them. We do not. Like many people in our community, we prefer to use a competitive company that is efficient on time, and much more cost effective than the Council’s offering. I would like to opt out of paying for the TCDC rubbish collection but there is currently no way I can do this, so I am forced to donate to TCDC instead.
The problem our council has (and most other Councils) is that they have limited sources of income but are forced to manage a growing number of services, many dumped on them by central government. Their traditional method of funding these services is to charge rate payers and they are just trying to be more imaginative with this. It is well past time that other sources of income were raised. Some of these are already being chased such as council receiving the GST paid on their rates income rather than having this go to central government. Another is that central government should start paying rates on the properties they run in our region. Schools, ministry buildings etc are all rates free and this must stop because their effective greed is at our expense. There are other exceptions also such as churches with multi-million-dollar property portfolios and no rates contribution to the community, they should be serving (not having a go at local ally struggling churches). Some aspects of private land have also been given exempt status, but I won’t get specific in case I upset the ladies from over the hill.
Our Council’s income could be far better if some structural changes such as those mentioned were to be put in place. But the Council should also be more focused on spreading its revenue sources. Partnerships with private enterprise should be sought in several areas - roading and usage areas such as water supply for example. This will require a different skill set within the Council. It’s time to wave goodbye to a selection of the social science graduates Councils gather to come up with spending schemes and replace them with business and especially sales focused staff.
That’s enough of a rant for this week, I did promise the Teacher that I would write an article about rates for her, and I feel it may be of interest to many. Now, I’ve just got to summaries this into six words or less so that I can get it onto a TCDC Planning document.