Proposed 21.4% rates rise hardest issue for problem-ridden Gore council

8:04 pm on 23 April 2024
Gore District Council building.

Photo: RNZ / Nate McKinnon

Taking a proposed 21.4 percent rates rise out to the Gore community is a bitter pill to swallow, its mayor says.

Councillors approved a draft annual plan for consultation at a meeting on Tuesday, saying it was initially a 40 percent increase until they whittled down costs.

Interim chief executive Stephen Parry described it as the most challenging budget that he had faced in his more than 20 years with the council, saying it highlighted the current local government funding system was not sustainable.

Councillors floated ideas like possible amalgamation, shared services, selling assets, cutting services - or even not planting the iconic flowers that line their main street.

In the end, they went point-by-point down a list of suggested cuts.

They included not fully funding the total increase in depreciation, deferring hiring new positions, some property renewals and maintenance, and IT upgrades, and the rollout of a kerbside recycling service, and canning the community awards.

All of them were passed.

Councillor Robert McKenzie said he was worried the high rates rise might drive people out of their homes or away from the district.

"Government are looking at letting councils increase debt. But that doesn't do anything, we've just got more bills to pay," he said.

He called on the government to come up with a better funding system than hitting ratepayers with higher bills.

It has not been an easy term for the council with infighting and a fractured relationship between mayor Ben Bell and now interim chief executive Stephen Parry, but Bell said this proposed rates rise hit hard.

Gore Mayor Ben Bell.

Gore mayor Ben Bell. Photo: GERARD O'BRIEN / OTAGO DAILY TIMES

"I know that we've been through a lot of tough things at this council, particularly this triennium. But I think the toughest thing is definitely passing on a rate increase that we all know as ratepayers that the community simply can't afford," Bell said.

The government was putting more responsibilities and requirements on councils without giving the support to help fund any changes, he said.

That included paying close to a quarter of a million dollars to start fluoridation this year following a government directive, Bell said.

The Gore district had a ratepayer base of less than 7000 people.

Gore district deputy mayor Keith Hovell said they could not sugar coat this. It was appalling but much of the costs were non-negotiable.

They did not have assets like a port or airport they could get a decent income from and instead, had to rely on getting income for rates, he said.

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