Whakatāne rate rise set for 3.9 percent

8:24 pm on 23 July 2020

Community requests have pushed Whakatāne's rate rise from 3.5 to 3.9 percent - far too high for one councillor.

Some businesses in Whakatāne are having a poor summer because tourists have stayed away during their busiest time of year.

The Whakatāne District Council raised its proposed rate rise to 3.9 percent after granting several requests from the community. Photo: 123rf.com

Whakatāne district councillor Victor Luca was a lone voice, voting against the rate rise that was endorsed by his fellow councillors last week.

Luca said he might have surprised some people by voting against the rise but had to go with his principles and he felt the rise put too much pressure on a community already under strain.

The Whakatāne District Council had originally proposed an average rate rise of 3.5 percent in its annual plan, however, after granting several requests from the community the rate rise was instead set at an average of 3.9 percent.

The additional requests include sealing the Awakeri Events Centre Carpark, additional funding for economic development group Toi EDA and additional playground shade sails.

Changes by council staff also contributed to the rise including additional resources to deliver on its work programme and reprioritising maintenance works such as emergency works on the Seaview Road sewerage pipes.

The added 0.2 percent equates to an additional $12 per year on a property worth $300,000.

Luca said he was compelled to vote against the rate increase as he did not think people's salaries were rising at the same rate.

He also felt it was the wrong time to raise rates when the true economic effects of Covid-19 were yet to be felt. He said he would have preferred rates to rise around 2 to 3 percent.

"We have a medium income in our district of around $25,000 a year and, while some people are probably happy paying more because of the benefit to the community, others struggle.

"I think there's a large swathe of the community that find it difficult," he said.

"A lot of members of our community are pensioners and their pension doesn't go up 4 percent a year."

The council's annual plan, adopted last week, notes that when developing the plan, the increased programme of work due to Covid-19 and other long-term priorities would have resulted in a rating increase of 8.1 percent.

The annual plan says council staff therefore made efforts in the 2020-21 budget to relieve financial pressure while maintaining a strong programme of work.

It also notes that council costs are driven by items such as bitumen, pipelines and construction materials, which increase in price more rapidly than household goods.

Luca said he would have liked more time to look for savings within the council but there was not much time this year due to the Covid-19 lockdown and legislative deadlines.

"I really think we could have found more savings," he said.

"There are some things we are doing that I don't agree with and I think we need to focus more on the basics. But that's what makes a council, the diversity of views."

During the consultation process Luca struggled with the lack of feedback from the community and said he had the impression from the community that there was no point in making a submission because the council did not care what the community thought.

However, he said this was an inaccurate perception and he would have appreciated more responses as it could have informed his decision making, particularly around an issue such as rates.

"If I don't know where people stand, how can I represent them properly?" he said.

"We only got 60 responses how is that enough for me to make a decision on? People are supposed to participate."

He said other elected members would have appreciated more responses and that what happened in the council was rarely a done deal.

Luca said he instead considered that, in general, nobody asked for a rate rise and that the district was experiencing an economic downturn due to Covid-19 and the Whakaari eruption.

"I really struggled with it, I stewed over it, but in the end, I went with my conscience," he said.

"At the end of the day you do what you feel is right."

The Whakatāne district's first rate take of the new financial year is due in late August.

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