Western Bay rates still the high­est

Waihi Leader - - News - By SA­MAN­THA MO­TION

Home­own­ers in the Western Bay dis­trict are still pay­ing the high­est av­er­age rates in New Zealand, ac­cord­ing to the Tax­pay­ers’ Union’s an­nual res­i­den­tial rates rank­ing.

The mayor blamed his dis­trict’s high rank­ing on the cost of be­ing a grow­ing ru­ral dis­trict, but a ratepayer reck­oned purse-tight­en­ing and ef­fi­ciency gains were needed.

The Western Bay had an av­er­age res­i­den­tial rates bill of $3192 in 2016/17, twice that of the low­est ranked area, Macken­zie Dis­trict Coun­cil on $1593.

The na­tional av­er­age was $2304. Tau­ranga City was ranked 15th high­est on $2553.

Tax­pay­ers’ Union spokesman Louis Houl­brooke said the Western Bay had topped the list since it be­gan in 2014 and ratepay­ers should be con­cerned about “the new norm”.

“Ratepay­ers might be will­ing to tol­er­ate high cost in the short term, espe­cially if it’s con­nected to vi­tal in­fra­struc­ture, but it be­comes a con­cern when the coun­cil is rank­ing as the most ex­pen­sive year af­ter year.

“The coun­cil needs to demon­strate that it has a longterm plan to not just freeze costs, but ac­tu­ally re­duce them.”

Keith Hay, sec­re­tary of the Western Ward Res­i­dents and Ratepay­ers As­so­ci­a­tion, said the rank­ing did not sur­prise him.

In his view it was due to a com­bi­na­tion of high cost of ser­vic­ing coun­cil debts and spend­ing on un­wanted, un­nec­es­sary or low cost/ ben­e­fit projects such as the new Katikati li­brary, boat ramps and cy­cle­ways.

He also blamed poor project su­per­vi­sion re­sult­ing in in­ef­fi­cien­cies that cost ratepay­ers ex­tra.

He said the as­so­ci­a­tion be­lieved that in­stead of dis­es­tab­lish­ing com­mu­nity boards as planned, the coun­cil should bol­ster boards’ func­tions and pow­ers to keep rates in check.

Western Bay of Plenty Mayor Garry Web­ber said grow­ing ru­ral dis­tricts were rare and most growth coun­cils were cities.

“We have grown 25 per cent in the last 15 or 16 years and we have to pro­vide for those peo­ple.”

Over 15 years, the coun­cil had taken on big debts to build new — or in­crease ca­pac­ity of — in­fra­struc­ture to pre­pare for pre­dicted growth.

The dis­trict’s ge­o­graph­i­cal spread meant in­fra­struc­ture was dis­trib­uted — five wastew­a­ter plants in Katikati,

moko­roa, Maketu¯/Lit­tle Waihi, Te Puke and Waihi Beach — not cen­tralised.

He said turn­ing peo­ple away was not an op­tion, with cen­tral gov­ern­ment de­mand­ing more new houses. The adage that growth should pay for growth was a myth that had not been achiev­able since the Global Fi­nan­cial Cri­sis of 2008, and ratepay­ers had to con­trib­ute.

Mr Web­ber said his coun­cil was op­er­at­ing with fi­nan­cial pru­dence and was one of few re­duc­ing its debt level — down from $150 mil­lion to just over $100m in a few years. He en­cour­aged any­one strug­gling to pay rates to con­tact the coun­cil about rates re­bate op­tions.

As other coun­cils grap­pled with growth pres­sures, Mr Web­ber said the av­er­age rates gap would con­tinue to close.

PHOTO / ME­LANIE CAMOIN

Waihi Beach res­i­dent Keith Hay says Western Bay rates are too high.

PHOTO / AN­DREW WARNER

Western Bay Mayor Garry Web­ber.

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