Hamiltonians stuck as to which council services to cut

5:19 am on 23 February 2024
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Hamilton City Council. Photo: RNZ / Andrew McRae

If Hamilton City Council's proposed 19.9 percent rate rise goes ahead this year it will be the city's highest ever increase - and that's down from the 25.5 percent rate rise the council had been talking about.

When the council met in November last year to discuss its Long-Term Plan, it said Hamiltonians would continue to receive the same level of service but a 25.5 percent rate rise was needed to "balance the books". The biggest cost increase council is facing in 2024/25 is depreciation ($19 million), alongside $18m from interest rates and $17m from inflation.

But this week, in order to bring rates rises under 20 percent, the council voted to ask Hamiltonians if they were willing to cut staff and services.

It was a close vote of eight to six. Mayor Paula Southgate voted against the move. She said there was a lack of detail about what cutting staff would mean for the services council delivers.

"Me personally, I'm not in support of closing libraries, pools, parks, or having a lower level of fixing potholes or weeding in our city because Hamiltonians have told us time and again they really value having those services."

On the streets of Hamilton, people were not really sure what services could be cut - and they agreed people needed swimming pools and libraries.

"Those are core things for our council, aren't they?"

Another said the council did not pick up his rubbish regularly enough.

"They can't maintain what they are already doing, so there's nowhere they can cut."

And they were not too keen to see people lose their jobs either, saying it was already tough enough out there.

"Nineteen percent is still a lot, and if people are still going to lose their jobs, it doesn't sound very good," one person said.

Paula Southgate

Paula Southgate. Photo: RNZ / Andrew McRae

The Public Service Association was also concerned. Assistant Secretary Bronwynn Maxwell said councils across the country were underfunded, and she was sympathetic about the situation they faced.

"I'd like to slate this back to central government, who I think urgently need to enable local government to have additional means of raising funds."

But she said there was not any fat to cut when it came to staff, especially after 68 jobs had already been lost at the council recently. And the effect of cuts was not just on the staff who lose their jobs, as those who stayed had to do more with less.

"These further cuts will mean cutting valuable services and it's going to make our communities in Hamilton poorer."

Councillor Ewan Wilson suggested the council approve a 7 percent reduction to the personnel budget and a 10 percent reduction to the consultant budget. He said it had to be done.

"The ratepayer has to fund the spending. And when the ratepayer rightly says 'we can't spend anymore money, we can't afford the rates', we have to reduce the services we provide."

Hamilton City Council would now be asking residents which services they were happy to see reduced, or stopped altogether.

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