Federated Farmers is asking councils to stick to basics in its first manifesto for local body candidates and voters.
President Don Nicolson says:
“New Zealand’s 85 current local councils collected in rates last year, enough money to fund the New Zealand Police more than two and half times over. For many farmers, rates are now among their biggest working expenses,”
“The vital role of councils has been underlined by the Canterbury earthquake. Basic services are taken for granted until the likes of water, wastewater and roads are suddenly lost.
“Our local councils also control assets worth nearly $99 billion with debts of around $7.5 billion. Every aspiring councillor needs to understand, the huge governance role they are seeking election to undertake.
“Candidates need to understand that rates are not there to fund ‘dreams and schemes’, but come from the hard work of property owners. This is the reason why Federated Farmers believes its Manifesto is a positive contribution to the 2010 local authority campaigns.
There hasn’t been much policy from any of the candidates standing in our area and campaign statements often combine the mutually exclusive desires of lower rates and more services.
“It provides both candidates and voters a yardstick to assess policies, pledges and positions. While there’s naturally a rural dimension to the Manifesto, the points are pretty much universal for urban and rural voters alike.
“What we want to see emerge are councillors committed to sound and equitable policies. Yet to get them, voters actually have to vote.
Nicolson said that in the last local body election on 44% of those eligible to vote did so.
” You can’t help but suspect that most of the people who ‘demand’ more be spent on local services, come from the other 56 percent who never bothered voting.
“It’s a major reason why farmers must vote in high numbers to ensure quality candidates are either elected or retained. Yet it’s doubly important to ensure these candidates understand the concerns of farmers and have the wherewithal to do something about them.
“While the system of funding local government is badly flawed, a bold council can take positive action that will make a real difference to the amount farmers and property owners pay in rates.
“Good councillors should focus on what the core job of their council is, no mater how unsexy it seems. It means resisting the ‘dreams and schemes’ of interest groups who are quick to spend other people’s hard earned dollars,” Mr Nicolson concluded.
A property based tax will always disadvantage farmers but there’s no simple way to reform the rating system that would be easy to sell to voters.
However, the best way to reduce the rates burden is to increase the rating base. That requires more people and more businesses.