Funding what we have
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."