I was chatting to another local last week and we got on to the often debated topic of the financial impact of Crown ownership of land in districts like Waitaki.
There are a fair few of us in the district who have Crown-owned land as our neighbour and we wonder, like all good neighbours, just what role the Crown plays in our community.
A classic example of this is getting access into Department Of Conservation land. It takes a fair bit of expense on behalf of ratepayers in the district to maintain local roads that lead into Department of Conservation-administered land, but we do not haul in any rates off that piece of dirt for the purpose.
I agree entirely that all of the users of that road pay petrol tax, road user charges, licence fees and the like, but I guess that 500km of back country road in the lower half of the South Island are not high on the Government's roading expenditure priority list.
Just after I finished that chat, I got another call about the growth of broom and gorse, spreading seed on to a neighbouring farm. The spread of weeds and collective pest control are difficult enough to manage between a set of neighbouring farmers who see each other once a fortnight, let alone between the Crown and those farmers.
I am the first to acknowledge there is no easy solution. Given Federated Farmers' objection to property value-based rates, perhaps there is some pragmatic, "recognition of Crown land's payment" which could be made to each council to acknowledge some shared benefits, even if it is just about remaining good neighbours.
As the Local Government Bill seems to have come to some sort of deadlock between opposition parties and the Government, without even considering the much harder issue of how we are going to continue to pay for stuff as a country, it seems likely the locals and I might still be having these conversations in a few more years' time.
Richard Strowger is the Federated Farmers North Otago provincial president