26 Jul 2021

Tauranga leaders concerned about plans to reinstate councillors in 2022

9:49 am on 26 July 2021

Nearly six months after Crown-appointed commissioners took over at Tauranga City Council, local leaders want their stay extended.

Tauranga City Council offices.

Photo: Google Maps

Elected members were sacked and replaced in February this year following funding and infrastructure challenges, along with public dysfunction, at the council.

The commissioners are due to depart after the local body elections in October 2022.

Tauranga Chamber of Commerce chief executive Matt Cowley said putting councillors back in charge of the city next year was risky.

"The local political environment is quite toxic at the moment," he said.

"No quality candidate would want to put their hand up and be involved in the mud slinging match of next year's local government elections. If the commissioners aren't here, there's a very high risk we'll go back to what we had."

He would like to see four commissioners and four elected members govern the city in 15 months' time.

Meanwhile, Tauranga Ratepayers' Alliance - a group made up of councillors and ratepayers - wanted the commissioners gone and the power handed back to democratically elected members immediately.

Spokesperson Michael O'Neil blamed former mayor Tenby Powell for the council's dysfunction and thought previously elected councillors would do the job just fine with someone else at the helm.

"We need a leader that can pull them together as a team and work for the betterment of all," he said.

On 26 July, the commissioners were tipped to adopt the city's Long Term Plan (LTP).

The LTP included an average residential rates hike of 16.5 percent and average commercial rates increases of 34.3 percent.

Tauranga Ratepayers' Alliance was set to protest the LTP with a rally outside the council chamber.

O'Neil slammed the rates increases as unfair.

"I've been living in this district for over 40 years. I consider I've paid for what I need to run around this city. To now have to pay again for growth is unrealistic and unfair."

O'Neil said many residents do not have the income to pay the rates on their properties that have shot up in value.

"They're asset rich but cash poor. Some of them are saying they're going to be forced out of the communities that they've lived in for 40 years because they simply won't be able to afford the rates," he said.

"That's an unfair expectation of any council to make of its ratepayers."

But local iwi representative and consultant Buddy Mikaere scoffed at this.

He said people in neighbouring districts paid more rates than Tauranga residents and he believed the alliance appealed to those who want to skip out on paying rates.

The commissioners had been able to make the hard calls the city needed.

"It's largely because there's no politics involved here, so you're not having a group of people being careful about their decisions because they don't want to affect their re-election chances," he said.

Anne Tolley

Tauranga City Council commission chairwoman Anne Tolley. Photo: supplied

He wanted to see the commissioner's term extended before transitioning to a mix of commissioners and councillors.

Tauranga City Council commission chairwoman Anne Tolley said the commissioner's job was to prepare the city for handing back to elected members and was confident there were eligible candidates in the city.

Minister for Local Government Nanaia Mahuta told RNZ in a written statement she was satisfied with the commissioners.

"I am pleased with the progress the commission is making, particularly in having engaged fully with the business community and ratepayers on a long-term plan that best addresses the council's substantial infrastructure and funding challenges," she said.

"I have been clear that I would like to facilitate a smooth transition back to full local democracy at the 2022 Tauranga general election. To achieve this, I have asked the commission to develop a clear exit strategy that includes building governance leadership and capability among elected members.

"Once I have received the commission's exit strategy, I will consider what actions I need to take to enable the community to return effectively to full local democracy."

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