Gisborne councillors consider how to cut the rates pie

2:21 pm on 6 November 2020

Residents who rely on their own septic tanks and water systems say a change in rates which will see them contributing to the cost of services they don't receive is "unjust and inequitable".

Back Ormond Rd grapegrower Doug Bell, who has been running his own septic tank and water supplies, is one of more than 100 submitters who opposed a change to rates which will see them contributing to the region’s water services.

Tairāwhiti grape grower Doug Bell is one of more than 100 submitters who opposed a change which will see them contributing to the region's water services. Photo: LDR / Alice Angeloni

Like many rural and semi-rural people near Gisborne, grape grower Doug Bell has a network of pipes and tanks on his Back Ormond Road property, from which he has been supplying these services to his family for 40 years.

"I have no use of the service you propose to rate me on. I feel very strongly that this isn't fair," Bell said at hearings about proposed changes to the rating system at the Gisborne District Council on Tuesday.

Bell was one of more than 100 submitters who did not agree with the council's proposal to transfer 10 percent of the cost of water supply and wastewater to the general rate, meaning all residents contribute to the cost, whether they directly receive the service or not.

Gisborne District Council

Gisborne District Council Photo: LDR / Alice Angeloni

The four rural councillors opposed the change in a vote which was carried by councillors following the hearing. The decision would be ratified at a Sustainable Tairāwhiti meeting on 10 December.

The ability of lower income earners to pay rates is central to the council's review of how to "cut the rates pie", with a report noting Tairāwhiti has the highest level of deprivation of any district, and the affordability of service delivery across the region is a "significant challenge".

This view was backed by a submission from social development organisation Manaaki Tairāwhiti.

Manaaki Tairāwhiti said the current system had a greater impact on low income households, and encouraged the council to take a general rates system based on the capital value of a property.

"It is more equitable and fairer. It would result in savings of several hundred dollars for those households on the lowest incomes," said a submission from co-chair Ronald Nepe.

Tairāwhiti grape grower Doug Bell has been running his own underground septic tank system for 40 years.

Doug Bell has been running his own underground septic tank system for 40 years Photo: LDR / Alice Angeloni

He noted there was very little engagement on rating policy with the lower income households who were most affected, and asked the council put a higher value on people's ability to pay, their material and financial hardship, rather than on a need to raise income.

The rating review aimed to provide "greater consistency" across the system, and would see it aligned with the approach used for river asset management and flood control, a staff report said.

The proposed change would reduce rates for lower value urban properties, and have minimal impact on lower value rural properties.

The proposal prompted debate over a "user pays" philosophy versus acknowledging that the region as a whole benefits from effective infrastructure.

Like others, Bell said he paid for the consent and upkeep of his water systems, and paid a fee when he had his septic tank emptied about once every three years.

However, a staff report into the proposed rating system said the cost of maintaining the region's septage sites and ensuring sufficient water supply to water tankers was not fully met by the "user fees" paid via commercial providers.

A Bell Rd submitter said he paid more than $3000 towards his septic tanks and water system annually, while another submitter said she found it "unjust and inequitable" for East Coast residents to pay when they had their own systems.

Rural councillors opposed the change on behalf of their constituents, with councillor Kerry Worsnop saying she continued to believe the policy was "neither fair nor transparent".

Other councillors supported the move with deputy mayor Josh Wharehinga saying it was about applying the "rates kaupapa for the benefit of the entire region".

Mayor Rehette Stoltz said it was complex, and that everyone's interpretation of fair was different, but they aimed to be transparent and consistent in the way they arrived at their decision.

"We need to decide how are we going to cut the one pie that we have," she said.

The council received 182 submissions on its five proposed changes to the rating system: the general rate, roading rates for forestry, wastewater, allocation of stormwater, and the city centre management and promotion rate.

Seven people spoke to their submissions at the council on Tuesday. While proposed changes to the general rate received the most negative feedback, most submitters supported a proposal to increase forestry roading rates, which sought to make forestry companies pay for road maintenance caused by the industry's heavy vehicle use.

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