10 Nov 2014

Rate rises squeeze small town Clinton

8:19 am on 10 November 2014

A provincial mayor says his council's rising rates bills have become unaffordable for many small town residents, driving them to the brink.

The comment comes in response to Clutha District Council forcing the sale of two shops and a house in the South Otago town of Clinton to recover thousands of dollars of unpaid rates.

Bryan Cadogan

Bryan Cadogan Photo: RNZ / Ian Telfer

The rural town of 300 people is well aware of the forced sales.

Several neighbours readily pointed out the pink house and main street shops up for sale, and said they feared the forced sales will spread to others in the town.

The owner of those properties, who has not paid rates in years, would not be named and would not discuss his situation because he said he was still trying to save the properties.

Neither would mayor of Clutha district, Bryan Cadogan, discuss what he said was a sad individual case.

But Mr Cadogan said he agreed the problem could spread, first to single pensioners, then pensioner couples, then working families on the minimum wage.

He said he wanted to stop that happening because it was not the kind of society he wanted to live in.

Rates bills rocket

Shops in Clinton.

Shops in Clinton. Photo: RNZ / Ian Telfer

Mr Cadogan said his own calculations showed council rates in Clinton had tripled in the past 15 years and now average $2,200 a property.

Yet some of Clinton's roads are unsealed, many are without footpaths, and stormwater drains uncovered because the council said it cannot afford to do more than the bare minimum for the town.

Mr Cadogan said across Clutha district, rates now average between $2,000 and $3,000 a year.

He said in the same 15 years a pensioner's income had gone up 66 percent and many wage earners had done even worse.

"If your unavoidable bills are ticking along at four or five percent [a year], it is a primary maths exercise. You are not going to make ends meet. Everyone's going to get caught sooner or later, and right now is the time to talk about it."

He said nearly all of the rates have to be spent on government-required upgrades of town drinking water, sewerage and stormwater schemes every 20 years.

"Central Government has to acknowledge what is happening in the communities and stop pushing them so hard through legislation.

"It's well intended, yes... but it's our ability to do it. It's getting implemented too quick for our people to keep up with."

"Clinton is being left behind"

One man who moved to the town from Whakatane to live in his daughter's modest house said he is shocked by the rates bill of $2,500.

He said that is not fair because the residents get nothing for that money.

He said the water tastes like "rat shit" and the town urgently needed a good tidy up.

The owner of the main dairy Pete Behrens said the council has actually improved the water quite a bit, but he did not know where the rest of his rates went.

"The rates are going up, but you cannot see what is getting done, because they are working on the water or the sewerage, but not the roads and footpaths".

"Clinton is being left behind. There's nothing more they can take out of the town." Mr Behrens said.