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‘Too high’

A schedule of fees and charges has come under attack at Gisborne District Council with a number of councillors saying the proposed increases are too high.

The council approved a revised recommendation from the finance and audit committee that fees be increased to a limit of 30 percent, excluding wastewater and cemetery fees which will increase by the rate of inflation.

Chief financial officer Pauline Foreman said the 30 percent cap only affected one area and was not across all fees and charges. It occurred in some of the regulatory functions.

The majority of costs were only raised by the rate of inflation.

The fees and charges have now been released for public consultation.

Graeme Thomson said he got reports all the time from people about fee charges that made him wonder “how they could be like they were”.

“I think we have got some serious questions around fees and charges and keeping things reasonable.”

Mayor Meng Foon said a river crossing at Te Karaka cost $3000.

On page 32 of the schedule before the council , the charge out rate for a team leader or senior scientist was $180 an hour. Over a year that amounted to $374,000. The next level down was $155 an hour which equated to $303,000 a year in salaries. At $100 it was $208,000.

“Please tell me how you construct these fees,” he said.

Chief financial officer Pauline Foreman said in general terms the charge out rate tended to be 2.1 times over the base salary rate. The rate covered all costs associated with the work. Other councils were around that level. The rates would be included in the review being done for the finance and audit committee.

Finance committee chairman Brian Wilson said he could understand the alarm at some of the rates.

“We are not going to solve it today. Possibly we could have had a much better process if we had workshopped this before we came to this stage.”

It would be good to have a review on how efficient the council was on delivering the services the charges represented.

That would be a significant piece of work. It was good to hear the charges were actually being reviewed.

His suggestion was to go through the charges in detail some time in the next year.

“Without a proper review process you cannot just pick out bits and pieces and say, that sounds too much let’s have a look at it.

“It is too late for that. We actually have to put these fees and charges in.

“It is just unfortunate that we have not done this exercise for a while so it is a little bit of catch up.

Mr Foon said a workshop could still be held before the fees were set.

“We concern ourselves with the increased cost of housing, but you have a look here at the fees and charges that have gone up. Some of them are doubled and we have the gall to actually say that the cost of housing has gone up because of other things. We are one of the causes of it.”

Larry Foster said fees for new builds had doubled. The district was going through a building boom and there were some huge increases.

Pat Seymour spoke about the extra fee for out of district interments. This was not fair, she said. People would hardly want to bury someone here unless they had some connection with the district.

Chief executive Nedine Thatcher Swann said the cemetery charges and the environmental charges had already been workshopped.

Rehette Stoltz said one of the main principles of the financial strategy was user pays.

If a person responsible for a cost was pinpointed they should pay for it, otherwise they were being subsidised by other ratepayers.

“We do need to be aware that some of these costs are really high but if we can say hand on heart this is the cost that is created then it is absolutely in line with our most important piece of financial strategy.”

Bill Burdett said some of the charges were staggering. “You could not do this if you were in business.”

A 30 percent increase could become 60 percent 12 months later.

Josh Wharehinga said he was aware there were tensions created by the fees but they were going out for consultation.

“We have got time,” said Mr Foon. “Given the concern from the community and around the table it would be wise to actually workshop this and justify them.”

“It should be user pays but is it a fair user pays?”

Mr Wilson said the charges were well behind the rate of inflation which meant the rest of the ratepayers had been subsidising these services.