The economic impact of a rural land tax on selected commercial farms in KwaZulu-Natal, South Africa.
Lee, Richard Brian.
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This study investigates the potential economic impact of a land tax implemented in terms of the Local Government Municipal Property Rates Act No. 6 of 2004 (“the LGMPRA”) on selected commercial farms in KwaZulu-Natal (KZN) using individual farm data for the period 2001-2006. The study first presents a brief history of land taxes around the world, describing the origins, prevalence and rates of land tax in the United States of America (USA), Australia, Britain and some Nordic countries. This sets the background for a brief history of land taxation in South Africa up to the implementation of the LGMPRA. The study then identifies the economic effects of a land tax, highlighting issues such as the capitalization of a land tax, relevant views of this tax, valuation methodologies, the advantages and disadvantages of a land tax, and the effects of a land tax on future capital investment on farms. Thirdly, the study presents key provisions in the LGMPRA pertaining to farmers with regard to land tax rebates, reductions and exemptions, farmland valuations and the determination of a land tax rate. The effect and applicability of these rebates, reductions and exemptions on the effective land tax rate are also discussed. Fourthly, the study uses a Residual Income Methodology (RIM) framework to estimate the annual economic profit (return to risk and land excluding capital gains) for five different case study farms in the Mtonjaneni and Umgeni municipal districts of KZN. This RIM framework makes allowance for the opportunity cost of management in estimating annual economic profit. These case studies are typical of the main farming enterprises in KZN such as sugarcane, timber, intensive poultry, intensive dairy, cattle, maize and potatoes. Sensitivity analysis is then applied to assess the effect of land tax rates ranging from 0.5% to 5% of the market value of land and fixed improvements on the five farms’ ability to pay a land tax after accounting for rebates proposed by the Department: Provincial and Local Government (DPLG). The estimated mean annual rate of return to risk and land (excluding capital gains) prior to the land tax for the five case study farms during 2001-2006 ranged from -8.50% to 2.94%, with an average of -1.74%. The case farms’ ability to pay a land tax rate of 1% on the value of improved land with and without proposed DPLG rebates from annual current operating returns ranged from zero to five out of five years, with an average of two out of five years. A 2% land tax rate with such rebates could be financed using annual current operating returns also only in two out of five years on average. These results suggest that land taxes at the proposed rates of 1.5% (Mtonjaneni) or 1% (Umgeni) on these specific farms would markedly reduce the incentive to invest in farm improvements These results also indicate that further research in KZN and other provinces in South Africa needs to be conducted to help ascertain the effects of the implementation of the LGMPRA in other municipalities.
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