Rating DoC land shifts costs from ratepayer to taxpayer

Federated Farmers is asking for private land which is protected by covenants to be accorded zero-rating status  like DOC land:

Following World Environment Day, Federated Farmers is to ask the Government to put protected areas on private land, such as QEII National Trust type covenants and Significant Natural Areas, on the same footing as the Department of Conservation (DoC) for council rating purposes.

“Since 1977, when Federated Farmers was a driving force behind the QEII National Trust’s formation, well over 111,000 hectares have been voluntarily protected by farmers and landowners,” says Don Nicolson, Federated Farmers President.

“The scale and determination behind this is equivalent to around the area of Egmont and Tongariro National Park’s combined. It’s that significant and it’s completely voluntary.

A great deal of this land could have been surrendered back to the state under tenure review at cost to the taxpayer and benefit to the pastoral leaseholder. It would then not be rated and the cost of weed and pest control, fencing and maintenance would fall on the taxpayer. Since it is privately owned, landowners protect the areas under covenant, control weeds and pests and maintain fences around it to protect biodiversity at their own cost and the land is rated as it its productive.

While covenants are voluntary, councils, under the Resource Management Act, have been requiring landowners to do more or less the same with Significant Natural Areas, or SNA’s.“While many councils have policies for remitting rates on voluntarily protected land, it hinges on a successful case-by-case application and does not apply to SNA’s.

“Time has come to shed light on what landowners are doing and that could easily come by Government backing covenant holders and those landowners with SNA’s.

“That’s as easy as putting protected land on the same footing as DoC land for council rates. Alternatively, if DoC paid council rates on the same basis as everyone else, it would greatly help reduce the financial burden on the rest of the community.

While there is a case for not rating covenanted land as if it is productive, the cost of rates would just be spread over less land if its rating value was reduced or zero-rated.

Rating Doc Land might be a better idea.

Opponents to rating Doc land say that all that would do is shift the cost from ratepayers to taxpayers and it would. But generally the ratepayers are those of large but sparsely populated rural authorities and a lot of the pressure to keep high country land in public hands come from urban people.

If DoC land was rated the cost of looking after it would fall more on those who want it in public ownership than the neighbouring community and Feds would have a much weaker case for calling for zero rating of land under covenant on private property.

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