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Fast-rising rates force resident out of town

A fourth-generation South Wairarapa resident has had enough of the district’s huge rates rises and is packing up to head closer to Masterton.

Brendon Low has lived in Martinborough for the past 37 years. He was born in Featherston and went to Martinborough School. His maternal family have lived in the district for about 150 years, but now Low is making the difficult decision to leave.

The most recent rates bill for his home is well over $6000, an increase of about $1000 on last year. He estimates he should save about $2000 a year by making the move.

Low’s decision comes as South Wairarapa District Council [SWDC] average rates are up 19.8 per cent on last year. In 2021 the district’s rates rose 29 per cent. Overall, SWDC rates have increased by about 55 per cent in the past three years.

Low is a farm manager and knows the region well. He is reluctant to leave but sees no end to the rates rises and believes he gets little for the money. While he can afford to pay the rates, he would prefer to spend the money on other things.

Although the bills are getting higher, services are being reduced, he said, citing berms and library hours among other examples.

“We get rubbish and whatever else they give to us, but we have to buy our rubbish bags now, which sucks. It’s their job to mow the grass verges [berms], it’s not our job,” he said.

In addition to mowing berms outside his house that he does not own, he then has to pay to dispose of the grass cuttings at the tip.

“That just guts me. I pay my rates, but they can’t even mow the verge. It’s not our land,” he said.

“It’s wrong. People say, ‘You get this in town, you get that in town’, but we don’t really because they don’t do it.”

Low said he uses few local facilities.

“Something’s not right. It doesn’t add up,” he said.

He is also critical of some of the consultation processes.

“Everyone can put their point forward, but they don’t listen. They’re going to do what they’re going to do, so what is the point?

“Martinborough isn’t a country town anymore. It’s expensive to live here. I can’t justify the expense. There are other, nicer places in other towns that have cheaper rates – half the rates.”

Low plans to move closer to Masterton and expects to pay less than $4000 a year in rates, making considerable savings.

Low’s current liability is about “about $120 a week in rates. When you break it down like that, it’s disgusting,” he said.

SWDC has previously explained the recent 19.8 per cent increase is due to an increase in the water budget [especially for the Martinborough, Greytown, and Featherston wastewater treatment plants], maintaining the rural roading reserve budget of $300,000 a year, and maintaining service levels – among other things.

The decision to adopt a higher water budget followed consultation on the issue.

Mayor Martin Connelly spoke at the time of the decision about the difficult choices councillors had to make.

“This council has a very small ratepayer base, compared to the size of the district, but has had to grapple with some huge issues costing a lot of money,” he said.

“However, our community is also hurting as the cost of living continues to rise. We needed to manage a fine balance between providing the right level of service without burdening our community beyond their means and have settled on the absolute necessities to maintain a reasonable level of service.”


Public Interest Journalism funded through NZ On Air


  1. I have a friend who sold her house in Carterton due to the increasing rates, even with a rebate she struggled as a goldcard user. So, after nearly 27 years, she sold and is now living in the south island

  2. I’m sorry but you could t be more wrong. Yes, rates are very high but that’s a result of a large geographical district with a small rating base that has to pick up the tab. This is straight mathematics, not some sinister plot to scam resident ratepayers. SWDD is not alone in this as years of successive Governments have moved further and further away from localism and into, most recently, Regionalisation by stealth. Councils cannot rate for more funds than what they need to provide their agreed levels of service in their Long Teem Plans. Councils have also realised that years of trying to keep rates as low as possible have now come round and bitten them in the butt. Our District for example, made the fundamental mistake of very low (less than inflation) rates rises during Covid to relieve the financial burden on Ratepayers. As more and more Council’s are forced into raising their Fees and Charges to lessen the rates burden and work towards a “100% user-pays” system, there will be minor relief for ratepayers. The loss of 3-waters infrastructure will lower many Council’s debt levels but will leave them with stranded overheads. Nobody likes this, nobody wins. Until Central Government fixes the funding model which is badly broken, then rates will continue to rise.
    Lobby your local MP in order to force change at Central Government level. Proactive action is of far more value than than making wild accusations that you are being scammed by your local Council. This could not be further from the truth.

  3. We left Martinborough 18 months ago and moved to Selwyn in Canterbury. The contrast between the two council’s has been an eye opener. We were very unhappy with SWDC. They ruined our street and would not engage. Rates here in Selwyn were not too dissimilar but service and delivery excellent. Easy to deal with. This year’s rates rise 9 percent. We feel sorry for our friends still living in Martinborough…especially those on fixed incomes. Wairarapa councils should probably combine to save money if they can resolve the Masterton overspend.

  4. Had the same thing with a lifestyle block in Canterbury. Paying rates to two entities much of which was unavailable. ( bus service stopped 5k away, library 15 away, no rubbish collection, water race off limits etc etc).

  5. I live in the Hutt – same issues here. The Mayor says he is aware there will be a struggle for some rate payers but that means nothing as they plough on regardless. The whole local body administration needs overhauling and a direct Government intervention on these issues needs to be introduced so that the rate payers can get their voices heard leading to realistic solutions to what the people can afford.
    At the moment we are like the peasants pleading with King John.

  6. The soaring rates in the SWD are a stark testament to the Council’s dismal mismanagement. Its dereliction of duty is most apparent in its failure to properly oversee its assets; the most recent asset management plan dates back to 2018, seeming more a formality than a tool for effective governance. And yet, despite leading the nation in rate hikes, the Council seems poised to spin a web of excuses rather than confronting its inadequacies. This failure isn’t an anomaly—it’s a badge of dishonor.

    A look at the Council’s leadership paints a troubling picture: the staff, especially the senior managers, appear to have been in their roles for years, with retirement on the horizon. It’s as if they view the Council not as a public trust, but as their personal kingdom, operating without any tangible accountability to the very people they serve—the ratepayers.

    The Council is primed for a restructure to cast off the deadwood embedded within. At a bare minimum, the Council ought to implement performance reviews for Senior Managers. Staff who are underperforming, instead of contributing value, must face the possibility of termination.

    The Council must establish a comprehensive set of performance indicators, and publish the results on a monthly basis.

    Lastly, it is crucial to keep the ratepayers informed about the steps being taken to curb future skyrocketing rate hikes.

    I doubt anything will happen so be lets start saving for the next rate increase.

  7. Wellington rates are also a joke! Rate payers are at saturation point. New models need to be quickly found for funding local government expenses other than ordinary homeowners. The present model is unsustainable. Council’s sympathising, is not want we want to hear! Rather an alternative model going forward. Central government is going to be required “to cough up”, enough is enough!

  8. Very sad that Mr Low is being put under such Financial pressure.
    The system is certainly out of sync, the time to get back to the basics is well over due.
    The roads are now forked …it’s a rap?
    Sewers won’t carry….much more crap
    Bredon crying out …highest rates in the land
    Is the council run by a…. one horse band?
    Paul @ The Chuckle Factory

  9. What about the pensioners living there on a fixed superannuation
    It’s terrible all these flash houses and estates coming to town what r they doing with all
    The rates where’s the little country town gone 😂

  10. The rates system needs changing and government needs to stop putting restrictions on how town water & sewerage must be to comply and roading. Rate payers in small towns cannot afford it, government needs to subsidies there restrictions. Councils need to reduce their staffing levels.

  11. The rates are way too high for the average person whose not a millionaire.
    It’s a rort ratepayers are being scammed.

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