The Ashburton Guardian, COUNTY AGRICULTURAL & SPORTING RECORDER THURSDAY, FEBRUARY 19, 1880.
The decisions arrived at by the Judge of the Assessment Court on Tuesday were not to our mind exactly in accordance with the spirit and intention of the Eating Act; nor is it in consonance with the now generally accepted opinion held by all local bodies possessed of rating powers, that unimproved lands, held for speculative purposes, should be assessed at an equal valuation with improved pro-
portics. This principle is as obvious as it is fair. It is a notorious fact that a largo number of town sections are held merely for a rise in price, and are, as such, unoccupied and act as a dray on the progress and advancement of the Borough. Many of these sections if sold at a fair and reasonable rate by the owners of them, would bo at once built upon and would add to the importance of the town. But these sections are now, in consequence of the land shark proclivities of their owners, locked up, to the detriment of the town. Moreover, they owe an actual source of danger to the residents, as the growth of tussock is a direct peril in case of fire, and no simpler accident could happen than that a conflagration should some day arise by the mere fact of some smoker dropping a lighted match in one of these unoccupied, but valuable sections. If an intending resident offers to purchase one of these quarter-acres, the holder at once asks such an exorbitant price that the figure is prohibitive to any ordinary tradesman, and thus buying and building on the waste ground are prevented. But, when the assessor of the Borough rates the section at half or one-third of the price asked for it, the land shark at once objects to the valuation, and moves all the machinery of the Rating Act to avoid the payment of anything more in the shape of taxes than he can possibly get out of. One of his stock arguments is that the land, not being occupied, is consequently not profitable to him. Another ground the speculators base their objections on, is that probably the section has no formed or metalled road leading to it. How on earth can these speculators expect a local body to expend their revenue to make roads to unoccupied portions of the town when sections with stores or cottages require and deserve prior attention ; and how can streets be made without raouej’, which is now only obtainable from rates and taxes 2
But the land speculator seems to have a sympathiser in the Judge of the Assessment Court. His Worship does not feel that it is necessary to abide by either the spirit or the letter of the Act. The Act says that the “ rateable value ” of any property means “ the rent at which it would let from year to year, deducting therefrom 20 per cent in cases of houses, buildings, or other perishable property, and ten per cent on land ; ” but the rateable value shall “in no case be less than 5 per cent on the selling value of the property.” The Act is clear, and the intention quite intelligible: but the Judge seems to have put a construction of his own upon it, for on Tuesday in some cases lie charged the rate at 10 per cent on the selling value, where buildings were valued, and 5 per cent where lands were not occupied, for the the reason that the former was in profitable occupation, and the latter an unprofitable investment for the owner. Why ! such a decision simply amounts to offering land sharks a premium to continue their system of holding empty sections, paying the minimum of rates, so as to profit by the first rise in the market, and line their already gorged pockets at the expense of the Borough and those who have helped to build up the fortunes of all who have an interest in it. Take an instance of hiw this thing will and does work in practice. Wo will take a hypothetical case of three sections contiguous to each other—numbers 1 2 and 3. No. 1 belongs to Pewters, a publican ; No. 2 to Latitat, a Cristchurch lawyer ; and No. 3 to Jack Smith, a carpenter. Pewters, with a view to supplying the liquid necessary to quench the thirst of his friends, erects a magnificent hotel ; Jack Smith builds a two-roomed cottage for self and wife, and also puts a potato patch on the balance of the quarter-acre. Latitat leaves his No. 2 section, intervening between the hotel and the cottage, in its natural state, ready for the first swagger to throw a lighted match into, to cause a conflagration and burn down the buildings on Nos. 1 and 3. Well, Pewters has his hotel valued at say LSOO for the section and L 2,500 for the hotel—total, L 3,000. ■ Deduct 20 per cent, for building, Lsoo—and 10 per cent for land, LSO; there remains net value for rating purposes L 2,450, at 10 per cent. L 245, which, with a shilling rate, is L 24 10s. Pewters has to pay into the coffers of the Borough treasurer as his annual rate. Jack Smith’s section is valued at, say the same, LSOO ; and his cottage at Lloo— rating value, as above, L 530 ; rates payable, L2 13s. Latitat’s section, taken at the same price, LSOO ; with the ten per cent, deduction, is rated at L 450, and is rated at five per cent on that sum or L 22 10s., and his contribution towards the revenue is LI 2s. 6d., so that there is absolutely an inducement to the Latitat class of land ownei to keep his «e;tion in tussock. We consider that it is necessary for the benefit of the town that absentee section holders should be made to pay their quota of rates, and we cannot endorse the ruling of the Judge on the cases heard before him the other day.