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Five vote against Long-Term Plan

Five Gisborne district councillors yesterday voted against the adoption of the Long-term Plan (LTP), in what is believed to be an unprecedented move.

Rural councillors Pat Seymour, Bill Burdett, Sandra Faulkner, Kerry Worsnop and city ward councillor Isaac Hughes voted in the negative because they oppose the transfer of 10 percent of three waters costs to the general rate, affecting rural ratepayers who provide their own water and septic tank systems.

The same five councillors tried to revoke the policy at an extraordinary council meeting in May.

The adopted 2021-2031 LTP proposes average annual rates increases of no more than 6.5 percent for years one to three, and 5 percent from year four onwards.

Cr Bill Burdett, speaking at yesterday's full council meeting, said he stood for fairness and equity, but rate increases for the “northern” region (he compared East Coast increases of around 6 percent to city increases of 2.4 percent, 1.8 percent and -0.8 percent) were “the worst we could possibly have”.

“How did we get here and why?

“I'm talking about reality and facts.

“I supported the last long-term plans, but when you impact on the people I represent without any excuse, I'm not part of it.”

Mayor Rehette Stoltz told The Herald after the meeting that the council applied a principle-based approach to funding operations.

“We aim to be consistent across all council activities,” she said.

A large portion of rates and cost were targeted where people paid for a service they directly benefited from.

“In practice, it is not always possible as certain activities — like roads, flood protection and water services — are part of a region-wide network and there is the expectation that everyone contributes to some extent.

“Rural councillors have been opposing changes in wastewater, stormwater and drinking water charges when we decided to reduce the stormwater charge, that had been charged historically on general rates, from 20 percent to 10 percent and to introduce a 10 percent charge in regards to water and wastewater.

“In the past 18 months, we have had at least three go's at debating this, and the majority of councillors believe that our proposed principled approach is appropriate.

“I do acknowledge that our rural ratepayers make a considerable contribution to our rates income.

“We need to balance this rural/urban debate with the fact that city ratepayers contribute significantly (60 percent percent) towards rural flood protection schemes and rural transfer stations where there is no direct benefit to the city, but they can see the overall benefit to our region by all contributing.

“City ratepayers also contribute more than 50 percent of roading rates, but 75 percent of those rates are spent in the rural areas — a contribution to support the network.

“To put today's voting into perspective, we adopted a work programme of more than $1.6 billion over the next 10 years.

“As a council, we will spend more than $180 million in 2022 and the cost that made rural councillors vote against the total plan equates to about $300,000 for 2022.

“It is a tiny portion of our overall plan.

“As councillors, we are tasked to take the bigger picture into account.”

The council had also reviewed toilet pan charges, Mrs Stoltz said.

“There has been an anomaly where a household will pay the same wastewater rate as organisations with multiple toilets (like hospitals, retirement homes, schools).

“This has now been addressed which means that we have seen a reduction in rates for a big portion of urban homes.”

Rates setting was complex and all councillors wanted to have a fair charging system.

“Ultimately we all want to make decisions that are in the best interest of the whole district,” the mayor said.

Cr Seymour told The Herald it was the first time in her 20 years as a councillor that five councillors had voted against adoption of the LTP. Former Herald chief reporter John Jones said he knew of no such previous occurrence.

Cr Seymour said the councillors had made every effort to have the decision reconsidered.

“It's not about shared services or things we may not use often.

“The issue for us is around wastewater and freshwater which are 100 percent provided by homeowners which we are now being charged 10 percent for.”

Cr Seymour said it was a not urban/rural issue.

The issue was whether you received the service or not.

“You can talk about Makaraka (rates up 8.2 percent, 12.4 percent and 9.7 percent for high, medium and low capital value properties respectively) — they receive no reticulation.

“It's a point of principle.”

During the council debate, Cr Seymour said it was a disappointing and sad day when costs were being imposed on unreticulated areas.

One community had suffered last week (referring to flooding at Tokomaru Bay) and “we are dumping increased costs on such communities for services they will never receive”.

The new 10 percent cost could increase in future.

Cr Seymour told The Herald such a system was the beginning of a “slippery slope”.

Under the LTP, the council proposes to collect 5.95 percent more in total rates revenue in the first year of the plan.

The council's external debt will be less than its new 130 percent of revenue,with debt forecast to be at its peak, $151m, in 2026.

The rates requirement for 2021-2022 is $65.8m plus GST or $75.6m including GST.

Ratepayers will be sent a rates assessment and invoice for the first instalment this month, with payment due by August 20.