Fund­ing what we have

The Northland Age - - Opinion - Mayor John Carter

Last month I joined dozens of dog own­ers and their cher­ished pets at Sim­son Park in Mo­erewa for our third chip and snip event, Nga¯ Kur¯ı Auau o Mo­erewa. It was a very suc­cess­ful day, with 187 dogs mi­crochipped and

185 signed up to be neutered, free.

The goal is to en­cour­age re­spon­si­ble dog own­er­ship, and these days have proved ef­fec­tive in re­duc­ing nui­sance dog com­plaints and un­wanted pup­pies at our shel­ters. Own­ers I spoke to were keen to be part of the so­lu­tion, and grate­ful for coun­cil’s as­sis­tance to help them achieve that.

The fol­low­ing week many of you will have re­ceived your lat­est rates in­voice. This in­evitably pro­vokes crit­i­cism and com­plaints that res­i­dents get “noth­ing” for their rates. While I don’t agree, I un­der­stand how easy it is to take for granted the ser­vices and ameni­ties the coun­cil pro­vides ev­ery day. Few stop to think that the sports fields used ev­ery week­end are main­tained by rates, or that the book bor­rowed from one of our six li­braries is pro­vided free be­cause of ratepay­ers.

How many of us think of the coun­cil when driv­ing on dis­trict roads to our favourite beach, or when us­ing a boat ramp to take the fam­ily fish­ing? We park in a coun­cil-owned carpark, pic­nic on a coun­cil-owned and -main­tained re­serve, and use pub­lic toi­lets pro­vided and cleaned (some­times two or three times a day in the sum­mer) by coun­cil con­trac­tors.

The fact is, many of these ser­vices are funded en­tirely by ratepay­ers. En­sur­ing they meet ex­pec­ta­tions and com­ply with na­tional stan­dards is not easy. Our dis­trict has the third-largest geo­graph­i­cal area of any coun­cil in the North Is­land, and is the 13th-largest in New Zealand. Half of that is non-rate­able, be­cause it is con­ser­va­tion land, re­serve land, her­itage land, Min­istry of Ed­u­ca­tion land and so on.

Un­like other lo­cal au­thor­i­ties, our pop­u­la­tion is not con­cen­trated in one easy-to-serve city, and we do not pos­sess a money-mak­ing port or ma­jor air­port. Most of our com­mu­ni­ties are small or very small, but each one re­quires roads, foot­paths, street­lights, wa­ter, sew­er­age, and many other vi­tal ser­vices. As a re­sult, we have one of the coun­try’s long­est road net­works (2500km), and the third-long­est un­sealed net­work (1647km). Cen­tral gov­ern­ment pro­vides some help, but just 36,000 ratepay­ers pay the lion’s share.

The gov­ern­ment is look­ing at whether rates are the best way to fund lo­cal ser­vices, and has asked the Pro­duc­tiv­ity Com­mis­sion to un­der­take a re­view. It is also look­ing at how we fund roads and wa­ter ser­vices. We sup­port these re­views.

Mean­while Nga¯ Kur¯ı Auau days have proved a hit with our com­mu­ni­ties, and we have com­mit­ted to hold­ing more around the dis­trict. This is a good use of ratepayer funds — it en­cour­ages more of our peo­ple to work with coun­cil, im­proves pub­lic safety, and makes this a bet­ter place in which to live.

"Few stop to think that the sports fields used ev­ery week­end are main­tained by rates, or that the book bor­rowed from one of our six li­braries is pro­vided free be­cause of ratepay­ers."

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