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Climate Change Editorial

By Councillor Marshall
Environment Canterbury

The more we understand societal impact on the environment the greater the apparent need for rules, regulation, and interventions to manage this impact to some form of “acceptable” level, a level that’s more often politically or economically acceptable than it is environmentally or culturally.

The Essential Freshwater package introduced by government in 2019 appeared to swing the pendulum back into the “environmentally acceptable” space with limits and approaches more consistent with environmental health than economic health.

Alongside this package we’ve had the Climate Change (Zero Carbon) Amendment Act, the three waters (drinking water, wastewater, and stormwater) reform is ongoing, and we know there will be reform of the resource management system at some point soon. Add to this new National Policy Statements on highly productive land and indigenous biodiversity, environmental standards on greenhouse gas emissions, and amendments to the air quality standards you’d be forgiven if you were struggling to keep track of everything that was happening. And this is only some of the change happening in the environmental management space and only at a national level!

As needed as these changes are, much of the responsibility to implement the rules created by central government is delegated to us at the local government level, in what is increasingly being referred to as an “unfunded mandate”; an expectation to deliver more without additional resourcing to do so.

But this mandate does not need to be unfunded. One option that local government has pursued for decades is rates on crown land. Such rating would see a significant redistribution of rating burden for much of the country. Rates on crown land was proposed in 1958, 1973 and 1978 reviews of local government. More recently Local Government New Zealand (LGNZ) on behalf of councils have pursued rating of crown land through a 2005/6 joint officials review of local government funding, a 2007 inquiry into local government rates (aka the Shand Inquiry), and in a self-published review of local government funding in 2014. In 2015 a remit brought to LGNZ by (then) Wanganui District Council again asking for rating of crown land was unanimously endorsed by the 78 councils across New Zealand. Since, this remit has been endorsed by the productivity commission but fails to have gone much further.

And this leads us to today; councils currently consulting on their Long-Term Plans (aka ten-year budgets) with questions of rates affordability again front and centre in most media. ECan is consulting on a rate rise largely reported as 24.5% (remembering that ECan rates are about 10-15% of your total rates bill), though the actual rating impact will depend on property value and changes in targeted rates.

What is affordable to one is unaffordable to another, hence rates are largely based on property value; those who have the least are asked to contribute the least, and those with the most vice versa. Unequal? Yes. Inequitable? No. What I see as inequitable is GST. Given rates are an operating expense, businesses can claim back GST on rates at yearend meaning technically businesses pay 15% less rates than invoiced, an option not available to the rest of us to offset the escalating costs of existing.

Councils have no desire or interest in spiralling rates cost. We do have desire to deliver effective services consistent with our mandate and community outcomes. We have a rising tide of both legislative requirements and societal expectations. ECan must do better in addressing environmental degradation, protecting and enhancing remnant environments such as wetlands, improving monitoring and compliance responses, and delivering a desirable and user-friendly public transport system, among many other responsibilities.

Lacking other funding sources, the only way we can create the thriving and resilient Canterbury we all want is to continue to ask everyone to help fund this future via a rating contribution. Submit on the ECan Long Term Plan before 11 April to let us know what we should prioritise doing and how this should be funded.

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