Council conflict delays rates decisions

5:49 pm on 14 June 2021

Ratepayers wondering what sort of charges West Coast Regional Council will inflict on them this year will have to wait until July to find out.

West Coast, South Island.

West Coast, South Island. Photo: RNZ / Tracy Neal

An unofficial email by council chief executive Vin Smith, who has been on personal leave for the past month, revealed the council was looking at a rate rise of 30 percent, with 10 percent increases in each of the following two years.

Currently, the regional rates bill for an average West Coast property valued at $200,000 was about $180 per year.

With a 30 percent increase that would rise to $234 - without accounting for any recent increase in valuation.

The exact proposed rate increase will be revealed in the council's long-term plan, which is supposed to be adopted before the start of the financial year on 1 July.

But the regional council is running weeks late with its planning process, in part because of recent internal and political ructions.

Smith abruptly took leave last month after a confrontation with chairman Allan Birchfield, who then initiated an independent employment investigation at the council.

That was followed by a bid by four councillors to roll the chairman - a plan defused at the 11th hour after a meeting with Poutini Ngāi Tahu, the council's Treaty partner.

Audit NZ had also identified several additional items that should be included in the long-term plan, including the government funded flood protection projects, according to a staff report, which suggested it could be presented to the council meeting on 28 June.

If the council adopts it, it could be notified on 5 July, go out to public consultation with a submissions deadline of 9 August, and hearings held on 11-12 August.

Once the council agrees on the final version, and Audit NZ reviews it, the plan would finally be adopted at the council meeting in September.

The dates are critical; if it fails to meet the deadlines by the time the September rates instalment falls, it cannot charge the new rates.

The intention was to send all ratepayers a hard copy of the proposed plan, and the number of submissions could be higher than usual, given the financial impact on ratepayers, staff warned.

Chairman Birchfield said he could not confirm the 30 percent increase flagged in the chief executive email leaked to Local Democracy Reporting.

"We are looking at some very big cost increases but I am still hopeful we can make some changes," he said.

The council's previous chief executive Mike Meehan warned last year more skilled staff would have to be hired to manage the workload created by the government's freshwater and biodiversity regulations.

Long-term plans show what councils plan to do over a 10-year period, why they are doing things and what they will cost.

no metadata

Local Democracy Reporting is a public interest news service supported by RNZ, the News Publishers' Association and NZ On Air.

Get the RNZ app

for ad-free news and current affairs