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Candidates differ on council fix

Those vying to represent the region in Parliament in the upcoming election agree there’s a mismatch between councils’ revenue and the growing range of responsibilities they have, but the declared candidates differ markedly on what they’d do to fix the issue.

Off the back of completing the annual exercise of setting the rates to be wrung from local residents, and in the wake of an independent report into the future of local government, Wairarapa’s three mayors have agreed that local councils desperately need more funding.

As Carterton mayor Ron Mark memorably put it to the Times-Age last Wednesday, current legislation enabling councils’ revenue raising is “archaic, out of date, not fit for purpose”.

Unless central government loosens its purse strings and shares more of its tax take to allow local government to discharge its extra duties, Mark, Masterton mayor Gary Caffell, and South Wairarapa mayor Martin Connelly reckon ratepayers can ultimately expect to pay more for less.

That’s also the view of the Review into the Future for Local Government panel, whose recent report labelled the current funding model as “not sustainable” and called for substantially increased funding.

As Mark stated, “We are definitely at a point where a government has to listen.”

So, having heard the mayors’ collective plea, and read the panel’s recommendations, what do Wairarapa’s parliamentary candidates see as the solution?

Incumbent MP and Local Government Minister since February, Labour’s Kieran McAnulty was the most non-committal of the three.

McAnulty acknowledged the range of responsibilities councils have, and that while “they do the Those vying to represent the region in Parliament in the upcoming election agree there’s a mismatch between councils’ revenue and the growing range of responsibilities they have, but the declared candidates differ markedly on what they’d do to fix the issue.

Off the back of completing the annual exercise of setting the rates to be wrung from local residents, and in the wake of an independent report into the future of local government, Wairarapa’s three mayors have agreed that local councils desperately need more funding.

As Carterton mayor Ron Mark memorably put it to the Times-Age last Wednesday, current legislation enabling councils’ revenue raising is “archaic, out of date, not fit for purpose”.

Unless central government loosens its purse strings and shares more of its tax take to allow local government to discharge its extra duties, Mark, Masterton mayor Gary Caffell, and South Wairarapa mayor Martin Connelly reckon ratepayers can ultimately expect to pay more for less.

That’s also the view of the Review into the Future for Local Government panel, whose recent report labelled the current funding model as “not sustainable” and called for substantially increased funding.

As Mark stated, “We are definitely at a point where a government has to listen.”

So, having heard the mayors’ collective plea, and read the panel’s recommendations, what do Wairarapa’s parliamentary candidates see as the solution?

Incumbent MP and Local Government Minister since February, Labour’s Kieran McAnulty was the most non-committal of the three.

McAnulty acknowledged the range of responsibilities councils have, and that while “they do the

 

best they can with what they’ve got … it’s clear rates alone aren’t enough”.

“The system of local government needs to evolve so it is better able to provide for our communities.

“The question is how we do it,” he said, while appearing disinclined to provide an answer any time soon.

“The Future for Local Government Review’s final report provides a strong vision for what local government can be and should be,” he told the Times-Age.

“I’ve suggested the local government sector gets together, looks over the recommendations and decides what they like and what they don’t. Then, after the election, we can sit down and agree on how to progress things.”

According to National candidate Mike Butterick, his party is “exploring a range of innovative funding models to make sure councils can access the capital they need to invest in and maintain the infrastructure people expect”.

However, he’s as non-committal as McAnulty about the recent report’s recommendation that central government pay rates on its own property and transfer an amount to local authorities that is equal to the GST charged on rates [about NZ$1 billion a year in total], saying the proposal “would have large fiscal implications and we’d need to see the details”.

Although Butterick is theoretically in favour of less government centralisation – polytechnics, Three Waters, and health are name-checked as examples of this trend’s failure, and he promises his party will “end Labour’s top-heavy, Wellington-knows-best approach” – he diagnoses the main cause of councils’ budget woes as rising prices.

“The big issue for councils at the moment is runaway inflation making everything they need to invest in more expensive, with these higher costs being passed on to ratepayers already struggling to cover the mortgage, groceries and fuel,” Butterick said.

“The big priority for National will be fixing the economy and getting inflation under control to stop councils and households drowning in higher costs.”

Green Party candidate Celia Wade-Brown concurs that “local government needs a larger share of tax revenue to deliver good services to their citizens” and that “central government, of all political flavours, has imposed new regulations and responsibilities … without providing necessary funding and expertise to councils”.

However, she is also concerned that “any transfer of funds from central to local government … will put pressure on those least able to pay unless we have a fairer tax system”.

The answer, according to Wade-Brown, is “higher corporate tax, and some way of ensuring inherited wealth and capital gains from property doesn’t increase inequality and higher tax thresholds to protect low-income households”.

The Green Party is also of the view that new sources of funding, such as tourism infrastructure levies and congestion charges, are tools that should be available to councils, Wade-Brown said, while also noting that “as a former mayor, I agree that central government and religiously owned buildings should pay rates like every other organisation or household”. best they can with what they’ve got … it’s clear rates alone aren’t enough”.

“The system of local government needs to evolve so it is better able to provide for our communities.

“The question is how we do it,” he said, while appearing disinclined to provide an answer any time soon.

“The Future for Local Government Review’s final report provides a strong vision for what local government can be and should be,” he told the Times-Age.

“I’ve suggested the local government sector gets together, looks over the recommendations and decides what they like and what they don’t. Then, after the election, we can sit down and agree on how to progress things.”

According to National candidate Mike Butterick, his party is “exploring a range of innovative funding models to make sure councils can access the capital they need to invest in and maintain the infrastructure people expect”.

However, he’s as non-committal as McAnulty about the recent report’s recommendation that central government pay rates on its own property and transfer an amount to local authorities that is equal to the GST charged on rates [about NZ$1 billion a year in total], saying the proposal “would have large fiscal implications and we’d need to see the details”.

Although Butterick is theoretically in favour of less government centralisation – polytechnics, Three Waters, and health are name-checked as examples of this trend’s failure, and he promises his party will “end Labour’s top-heavy, Wellington-knows-best approach” – he diagnoses the main cause of councils’ budget woes as rising prices.

“The big issue for councils at the moment is runaway inflation making everything they need to invest in more expensive, with these higher costs being passed on to ratepayers already struggling to cover the mortgage, groceries and fuel,” Butterick said.

“The big priority for National will be fixing the economy and getting inflation under control to stop councils and households drowning in higher costs.”

Green Party candidate Celia Wade-Brown concurs that “local government needs a larger share of tax revenue to deliver good services to their citizens” and that “central government, of all political flavours, has imposed new regulations and responsibilities … without providing necessary funding and expertise to councils”.

However, she is also concerned that “any transfer of funds from central to local government … will put pressure on those least able to pay unless we have a fairer tax system”.

The answer, according to Wade-Brown, is “higher corporate tax, and some way of ensuring inherited wealth and capital gains from property doesn’t increase inequality and higher tax thresholds to protect low-income households”.

The Green Party is also of the view that new sources of funding, such as tourism infrastructure levies and congestion charges, are tools that should be available to councils, Wade-Brown said, while also noting that “as a former mayor, I agree that central government and religiously owned buildings should pay rates like every other organisation or household”.

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