Steve Baron Cambridge's Eye on Democracy Council Rates (494 words) Let's face it, getting your Council rates

bill in the post isn't as exciting as seeing one of the many attractive Cambridge woman walking down the main street, but it certainly does make your heart jump! US President Franklin D. Roosevelt once said, “Taxes, are the dues that we pay for the privileges of membership in an organized society.” Cambridge rates certainly aren't cheap, the average ratepayer pays around fifty dollars a week as their contribution to the $32 million the Waipa District Council collects. Basing a tax on the gestimated value of a property is iniquitous. For example, Granny may have owned her home for a very long time so its not her fault the value has increased exponentially, but she still has to pay rates based on the value of the property. Neither does it seem fair that a household of five who use far more services than a single dweller, can end up paying less. There are other options that could be considered. Poll taxes (tax per head) or Community Tax as it was known in the UK under Prime Minister Margaret Thatcher are one option. However, they were very unpopular and inefficient to collect. A Service Tax, or a local income tax that operates separately from the national tax system has often been suggested, although this would create significant costs to collect. Perhaps a more equitable and simpler way to fund Council services would be through central government taxation which already funds a large amount of Council spending. This would simply mean raising national tax levels slightly, and spreading the load throughout society. If Council services were to become funded in this way, a specific formula would need to be designed to ensure Council funding did not become a deep black hole money is thrown at. Regardless of how Councils are funded, another important consideration is how Councils allocate budgets. One option becoming ever more popular throughout the world, and promoted locally in New Zealand by the Wanganui City Council, are referendums. This

allows ratepayers to prioritize Council spending. Referendums in Wanganui have included decisions on gang insignia, water softening, recycling options and the Splash Centre (pool) extension. They were also given various options on rate increases. These referendums have proved very popular with referendum voting actually higher than the Council elections themselves. An empirical study by Professor John Matsusaka from the University of California has also shown that those American States that have the referendum system, spend up to 19% less than those who do not. That would be music to the ears of most ratepayers. The current rating system is held in the same regard as the old TV licensing fee, everyone hates it and its just not fair. Council rates are a regressive tax because they are not linked to the income of the individual or household. Neither do they adhere to the principle of user pays. Therefore they are inherently unfair and should be replaced. Steve Baron is an author, Founder of Better Democracy NZ, and a regular contributor to publications throughout New Zealand. He resides in Cambridge. steve@betterdemocracy.co.nz www.betterdemocracy.co.nz

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