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Cut fees here, pay more there

A “NANNY STATE” charge for being annoying, the cost of ditching a stray log in the ocean, a fee for keeping “beers”, or the annual invoice on your 20-year-old septic tank. These are some of the Gisborne District Council fees and charges you might not know about. Alice Angeloni reports.

As it does annually, a report on “fees and charges” recently came before the council's finance and performance committee.

Councillors heeded their local democratic duties, passing on concerns of constituents and raising some of their own.

Some charges were divisive, like a burial fee for stillborns, which some councillors were adamant they could not support.

Others, like an administration fee for keeping “animals, beers or poultry” and clarified as a typo, elicited a few laughs.

Where councillors were keen to cut fees, they had the word of chief executive Nedine Thatcher Swann reminding them that cut here and “it gets spread somewhere else”.

1. Being annoying

A $62 charge for “causing annoyance” in public raised a few eyebrows.

It's aimed at reckless people playing “any game” or using “skating devices”, cycles or motorised scooters who might “intimidate, cause annoyance or inconvenience” in a public place.

But as Cr Andy Cranston said, “I think it's kind of nanny-state-ish to say that no person shall play any game which causes annoyance.

“Who's going to determine that?”

Mrs Thatcher Swann recalled it came about in a by-law in 2015 and it was about targeting skaters “downtown” after complaints from retailers.

“Whether that gets enforced is another question. I would suggest that it would cause more harm in terms of the ones that would be required to pay that from a social outcome perspective, and perhaps it's time to reconsider that by-law,” she said.

2. Harbourmaster's boat time

Gisborne's harbourmaster was the only one in the country without a boat. But that changed with the launch of the $111,000 vessel Kaitiaki in December.

It means there's now scope for the harbourmaster to charge for services.

The paper outlined a few activities the harbourmaster might charge for but a point on “log retrieval” prompted the liveliest discussion.

Sometimes a forestry log was dropped in the harbour while ships were being loaded, staff said. This could be a navigational hazard, and it was the council's responsibility to make sure the port was clear of such hazards.

Picking up logs used to be contracted out but now the harbourmaster has a boat, he can do it himself.

What caused a stir among councillors was hearing that stray logs were “usually” towed out of the harbour and ditched at sea.

“As a boat owner, I shudder when I hear that logs just get towed out and let go in the ocean. I would hate that to be reported,” Cr Terry Sheldrake said.

Mayor Rehette Stoltz said she would take it up with the port chief executive and board.

Council staff have proposed $350 an hour for the harbourmaster and boat charge, with discounts for longer periods.

When it came to log-dropping, they would try to find out who was responsible and pursue them to cover costs.

3. Registering your hound

The registration fee for a standard dog is proposed to increase from $111.25 to $120.

This is more than the rate of inflation but a staff report says fees needed to increase to cover costs.

Mayor Stoltz said she often dealt with complaints about dogs in which “responsible dog owners” often approached to ask whether fees could be shifted to those dog owners who “create the problem”.

“Also farmers come and see me and talk about their 12 or 15 farm dogs that never come into town . . . and there's still quite a substantial fee there.”

Registration for rural dogs is about half of the fee for urban dogs.

“Do we shed that cost to people who create the issue, which is probably easier said than done. . .” she said.

4. Burying a stillborn child

The burial fee for a stillborn child in Gisborne is proposed to increase from $72 to $74.

Cr Tony Robinson said it was a difficult subject to raise but he was “really surprised” they charged for the burial of a stillborn child.

“I think it's just really repugnant, actually.”

He acknowledged there was a service involved but said $74 was “nothing in the scheme” of the council's budget, especially compared to what someone was going through when burying a stillborn child.

“The fact they've got to pay a fee for it — it's such a small fee that we should just absorb that somewhere else,” he said.

Mrs Thatcher Swann said there was still a level of service required with the burial of a stillborn child.

“Ultimately you can determine whether you would like that charge reduced and if it is reduced, it gets spread somewhere else.”

Mayor Stoltz asked where they would draw the line.

“It breaks our heart to think of someone having to bury their unborn child or their under 12 child,” but they needed data before making any decisions, she said.

5. An old resource consent

An annual “administration” fee of $110 was introduced on resource consents a year ago.

The invoice was sent out to 10,000 consent holders last year and the fee this year is proposed to increase to $113.

Many of the councillors sitting around the table had been billed and they passed on words of feathers ruffled by the new fee.

“It caused a lot of consternation,” Cr Bill Burdett said.

Cr Sandra Faulkner asked if they had proven they needed the administration fee.

“It really does not sit comfortably that a consent that has sat (under) normal office overheads, and never been actioned all year, costs $110,” she said.

Environmental services and protection director Helen Montgomery — in response to concerns raised by Cr Kerry Worsnop — said the consents didn't “just sit there”.

“Each one of those resource consents needs to be looked at every year. The $110 is about an hour of admin time.

“Most of those are remote monitoring so they require some form of feedback from the person who has them,” she said.

Cr Worsnop said there was “no way” council staff were spending 10,000 hours annually on the 10,000 consents.

“There's no way that one hour of our staff administration time is committed to somebody's culvert that went in 10 years ago.

“I've had people say to me that if they'd known the $1200 resource consent that they got to put in that culvert was going to incur a $110 fee every year, they wouldn't have done it.

“They would have just risked someone catch them, knowing full well that no one would ever catch them because who's going to stomp through your property.

“Those of us who have been sent loads of emails about it know that people see it as very unjust. If we need to recoup those costs, do it when the consent is lodged. Don't attach something that simply sits there forever unless we genuinely are spending 20 minutes, an hour (on it).”

Mrs Thatcher Swann said a report came before councillors on the administration fee in February 2018.

At that time the council was only collecting 1 percent of cost recovery for consent activities.

Councillors decided a 25 percent cost recovery would be appropriate and implemented a fixed charge because it was easier to administer.

“If there is unease around the table that that's not appropriate for today's time then my suggestion would be we go back to the work that had been done previously, we bring all the information to the table and we have a discussion and debate and deliberate as to whether or not that needs to change.”

6. Keeping “beers”

Getting the council's approval to keep “animals, beers or poultry” is proposed to increase to $110.

It's the little things that become comical in a finance and performance meeting, with Cr Shannon Dowsing chuckling as he pointed it out, saying they were “very much undercharging” if they in fact meant “bears”.

Staff clarified it should read “bees”.

■ Cr Dowsing asked to signal their intention to further discuss charges relating to dog registration, the annual resource consent fee and stillborn burial charges.

Most fees and charges are proposed to increase by the rate of inflation of 2.2 percent, with the exception of a few.

The report on fees and charges was adopted and will go to the community for consultation in March.

New fees and charges will take effect on July 1.

Following publication of this story GDC provided additional information.

"We would like to make it clear that in the case of a processed log being inadvertently dropped in the harbour during loading, these logs are retrieved by a contractor at the expense of the stevedore," a spokeswoman said.

"Under these circumstances a log would not be towed back out to sea.

"The most likely scenario for retrieval of other floating hazards is in response to trees or slash coming into the port from sea. This is the same material that often washes up on beaches. Council has a contract to remove these from inside the harbour as they are a hazard to navigation and Council’s responsibility. The harbourmaster boat can also respond to these hazards. In most cases the trees are pulled out of the water and disposed of, occasionally they may get towed out to sea if that was determined to be the safest option. Over the last winter all of the trees that floated into the port were disposed of ashore.

"Floating flora and fauna is a common navigational hazard in coastal areas and is mitigated by skippers maintaining a proper lookout and ensuring safe speeds at all times."

‘I CHRISTEN YOU KAITIAKI’: Mayor Rehette Stoltz performs the traditional “christening” for the harbourmaster Sonny Ali’s new boat. Kaitiaki was a topic of discussion when an annual fees and charges report came before Gisborne District Council’s finance and performance committee. Council staff are recommending the harbourmaster charge for various services including retrieval of the odd log which drops into the harbour. Dog registration was also a hot topic of conversation as there was a proposal to increase the registration fee. Boat picture by Liam Clayton, dog picture supplied