Rates hike hurting South Wairarapa’s children

1:34 pm on 30 July 2023

By Sue Teodoro, Local Democracy reporter

Award-winning Wairarapa community sports organiser Nifo Ili.

Award-winning Wairarapa community sports organiser Nifo Ili. Photo: Supplied

An award-winning Wairarapa community sports organiser is speaking out about the impact of the cost-of-living crisis including the rising rates on hundreds of the region's most vulnerable, especially children.

Nifo Ili won the Wairarapa Times-Age volunteer of the year award last year for services to sport in the region, in particular her work with Featherston children. She is the organiser of the Featherston Sports Hub, and a driving force behind children's sports.

The award recognised her dedication to the children of the small Wairarapa town, for ensuring they had access to sports, food, and transport.

Now, Ili said she knows of as many as three hundred living at or below the breadline with at least 50 families struggling to make ends meet. Parents were being forced to take on second jobs, often with antisocial hours, meaning children were being left to their own devices.

She said the cost-of-living crisis and recent South Wairarapa District Council (SWDC) rates hike of almost 20 percent had hit homeowners and renters equally hard.


She has lived in the region for more than fifty years. Her own rates are now about $5,000 a year, up $1,000 from last year. She has had to go back to work to help pay the bills, meaning alternative care arrangements for her autistic son who lives at home.

"I've had to go back to work. I have to, otherwise our family would not be able to pay any of these bills. They are very high," she said.

Ili said hundreds of Featherston residents were struggling.

"I totally understand as a ratepayer what people are going through.

"People are struggling foodwise because of the rates going up. Kids of parents who are renting - their rents have gone up. Their rents might have gone up $50 or $100. That's still a lot of money for those parents.

"Our [sports club] kids are affected because their parents can barely afford to put them on a sports field or on a netball court," she said.

"They can't afford their shoes, their sports gear, their subs, travel to sports events. We've got three girls in our team who are 13-year-olds playing in the representative who have had to fundraise for themselves to go to those tournaments, because their parents can't afford to," she said.

"There are families where the parents have two jobs each, and they still can't make ends meet."

Ili said she was doing what she could to help.

"I get food for families that need food. I go out and try to get help for them. It's getting harder and harder.

"It could be more than three hundred people," she said.

"I'm dealing with so many people. I don't think the council really understand what they've put on families, and on people. They have to understand there are people out there who are struggling.

"It's not just here, it's everywhere."

Ili said it was time for councils to focus on the basics, and not the nice-to-haves.

"The councillors need to go around and talk to people."

Ili praised South Wairarapa mayor Martin Connelly for making an effort to communicate.

"When we have things, he turns up. He's never been scared to turn up, and face us and talk to us."

SWDC previously explained the 19.8 percent increase on last year was due to an increase in the water budget, especially for the Martinborough, Greytown and Featherston wastewater Treatment Plants, maintaining the rural roading reserve budget of $300,000 a year, and maintaining service levels - among other things.

The decision to adopt a higher water budget followed consultation on the issue.

Connelly spoke at the time of the decision about difficult choices councillors had to make.

"We know this council has a very small ratepayer base, compared to the size of the district, but has had to grapple with some huge issues costing a lot of money.

"However, our community is also hurting as the cost of living continues to rise. We needed to manage a fine balance between providing the right level of service without burdening our community beyond their means and have settled on the absolute necessities to maintain a reasonable level of service," he said.

Local Democracy Reporting is Public Interest Journalism funded through NZ On Air

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