Opinions on Tauranga City Council governance still divided

12:11 pm on 18 January 2021

Some Bay of Plenty leaders still don't agree on the best way for Tauranga to move forward, just weeks ahead of the government appointing commissioners to the city's council.

Tauranga City Council offices.

The Tauranga City Council offices. Photo: Google Maps

Local Government Minister Nanaia Mahuta is considering a list of potential commissioners to take over governing at Tauranga City Council.

The move followed a string of problems at the council, including bitter infighting among councillors and governance issues.

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Western Bay of Plenty District Mayor Garry Webber supported the move.

He said successive Tauranga City councils over the past decade had let the region down by failing to make the hard calls - namely increasing rates to fund growth - and this had affected the development of the whole region.

Western Bay and Tauranga City councils were part of a group called Smart Growth, which was designed to facilitate regional collaboration on housing, infrastructure and roading in the fast growing area.

But Webber said that had bought 20 years of planning with little action due to a lack of funding, partly due to insufficient rates revenue.

"The implementation has been diabolical disaster. Everyone knows what needs to be to be done, but it comes back to some people saying we can't afford to put the rates up. If we can't afford to put the rates up, we can't afford to spend the money."

He believed the Tauranga City Council shied away from rates increases due to affordability concerns and to avoid riling up residents during the last decade or so.

Western Bay residents with a property worth $500,000 pay about $800 more in rates per annum than their Tauranga City counterparts.

Webber said if Western Bay residents could afford higher rates, so could those in Tauranga City Council.

He hoped commissioners would get stuck in and do the dirty work for the region's long-term benefit.

It was crucial for the Port of Tauranga and the wider Bay of Plenty economy that Tauranga's roading system was well-planned and funded, he said.

"There's a lot of export [products] that come out of the Eastern Bay of Plenty. All of the forestry in the back country all has to funnel through the Port of Tauranga.

"I'm confident the commissioners put in will have the skill set to make it happen."

But Tauranga City councillor Kelvin Clout - who is against the appointing of commissioners - believed the government's intervention was unnecessary.

He admitted that public backlash was one of the reasons rates had not been put up, and believed residents were split between those who wanted to see the city grow and were willing to pay for it, and those who were not.

"That sort of dichotomy has gone through to the council as well. I think it's fair to say over the last 10 plus years, there has been a reluctance from some councillors to put the rates up knowing the rates knowing the back lash they're going to get from their constituents."

Clout said the current council was looking to change that by putting forward a rates increase of up to 20 percent in its draft long-term plan.

He believed replacing the council with commissioners would compromise democracy in the region and he said the council could still work together.

"There's always been a majority of councillors who are prepared together collaboratively, and that is still the case."

Local Government New Zealand president Stuart Crosby said the organisation had learned that it was better to intervene and offer councillors support sooner rather than later.

The commissioners are expected to be announced on 4 February and take over on 8 February.

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