From our Chair: Talking rates

Jenny Hughey, Chair, Environment Canterbury

Jenny Hughey, Chair, Environment Canterbury

Talk to anyone about Council business, and rates are usually a topic that pops up pretty quickly.

Generally, people aren’t shy about sharing their opinions on rates. Around the middle of each year, when Councils adopt their Annual Plans and ‘strike the rates’ to set what ratepayers will be asked to pay for the coming year’s activity, there is often media coverage and associated debate about the inevitable rate increases.

Generally, the media reports “X% rates increase” as the headline. This can be misleading as it implies that everybody’s rates will be increasing by X%. In reality, the percentage refers to the amount the Council’s total revenue from rates will be increasing. What each property pays depends on the location and value of the property.

Rates explained

Let me explain further: the term ‘rates’ is used to cover a number of different charges.

There are targeted rates – which apply to specific locations or activities only, and which can be based on the capital value of your property, the land value, or simply be applied as a uniform charge ie every property located in that area or benefiting from that specific activity is charged the same amount.

Then there are general rates – which are charged to every property in Canterbury, and again these can be based on the value of the property or can be a uniform charge. Uniform charges are also known as the UAGC or Uniform Annual General Charge.

How are they collected?

Canterbury Regional Council’s (Environment Canterbury) rates are collected via your local council – in Christchurch, this is through the Christchurch City Council, and you will see the amount as a line item on your CCC rates bill.

The total amount on your rates bill for Environment Canterbury’s work will be made up of a number of different rating amounts – depending on the mix of targeted and general rates (including UAGCs), that apply to your property.

The leaflet in your rates bill explains how your particular rates are made up.

Rates are your investment, as a property owner, in the current services and future state of your local area and the wider region.

What are the rates used for?

Your CCC rates pay for familiar services like drinking water supply and rubbish collection, among many other services.

From the Regional Council perspective, rates pay for often less tangible and longer-term programmes protecting the quality of our natural resources – air, land, water and biodiversity – monitoring compliance with consent conditions, and other services including public transport and emergency management that benefit the wider region.

Find out how rates in your rating area fund projects.

Keeping rates affordable

The challenge all Councils face with rates is that affordability for the ratepayer dictates the pace of progress of rate-funded programmes. What programmes we undertake and how we fund them are important decisions, which is why we consult on them.

Environment Canterbury has in recent years been building a foundation, working for a healthier environment at the pace we felt the community could sustain.

A question we’re now facing, with a rising tide of Government policy settings and community expectation regarding the environment, is how we can accelerate the rate of environmental progress while keeping affordability in front of mind.

Other sources of council income

With all that said about rates, they are not our only form of income and we receive central government grants for a variety of services, such as support for the public transport network, and there are user-pays charges for consent applications, swing moorings, bus travel and other activities.

We can also make use of council reserves (which of course need to be topped back up again), and we can borrow funds to the extent that our policies allow (which need to be repaid). Both of these impact rates but spread the impact out over time.

These different funding mechanisms, and how to fairly and justifiably apply the different types of rates, are all things the Council considers when looking at Annual and Long-Term Plans – it is detailed work and not a simple task.

The particular combination of funding streams that Council confirms when it strikes the rates will affect all ratepayers differently, hence why a single X% figure for a rates increase doesn’t tell the whole story about what you will pay and what work you are supporting with your rating contribution.

Have your say on the upcoming Long-Term Plan

While people don’t seem to be shy expressing their opinion on rates and what the Council is up to, this doesn’t seem to translate into many people making a submission and telling the Council what they think.

We will be putting our Long-Term Plan 2021-31 out for public input early next year, and your participation in that process is a key element of ensuring we get the right balance between what is affordable and what we need to do. Keep an eye out for consultations on our 'Have your say' page.

A simple email telling us your ideas about our Long –Term Plan will be most welcome. Find out about ways you can have your say.

Council is looking forward to hearing from you.