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Residents rate SWDC performance

The draft results of this year’s annual residents report card for South Wairarapa District Council [SWDC] are in, with respondents generally giving the council a “could do better” score.

While some results are better than last year, especially in relation to the recognition of Māori culture, many scores remain low, and a council spokesperson has admitted there is work to do.

Overall, libraries, playgrounds, and other public amenities score well, but roading and stormwater satisfaction scores are notably down on previous years.

While the leadership and governance functions of SWDC score better than last year, low-scoring results show residents think there is room for improvement.

The report said although there has been a slight improvement in many scores relating to leadership and performance of the council this year, the overall trend is a decrease in positive ratings and an increase in negative ones.

“This suggests a growing dissatisfaction among the public with the council’s performance in these areas,” the report said.

Financial management is one of the worst areas of performance, with only 12 per cent of respondents rating it as good or excellent, up from seven per cent in 2022 but down from 28 per cent in 2021.

“A significant concern among respondents is the increase in rates, which they feel is not justified by the services they receive,” the report said.

A combined total of 20 per cent of respondents think the council’s reputation has improved, but 26 per cent of respondents think the council’s reputation has grown worse.

The survey was sent to 3000 residents, with about 600 responding, a 20 per cent uptake. It was done in the last quarter of the 2023 financial year, between April and the end of June.

A report including the draft results was tabled at last Wednesday’s SWDC council meeting and said data collected relates to the 2022/23 financial year.

The results, therefore, mainly relate to a period before this year’s rate rise of almost 20 per cent was voted on at the end of June.

Council governance, leadership, and advocacy satisfaction rates are low, but not as low as in the previous year.

Only 24 per cent of respondents agree or strongly agree there are adequate opportunities to participate in decision-making, up from 17 per cent in 2022, but down from 40 per cent in 2021.

Similarly, 26 per cent of respondents think the mayor and councillors give a fair hearing to residents’ views, which is up from 2022 when the score was just 10 per cent, but down on 2021’s 34 per cent.

This year, those who think Māori culture and te reo are appropriately recognised is up to 43 per cent from 24 per cent in 2022 and 35 per cent in 2021.

Those satisfied with the advocacy and leadership of the mayor and councillors is 27 per cent, up on 13 per cent in 2022, but down on 40 per cent in 2021.

“[Many respondents] feel that their views are not taken into account and that the council does not always communicate or consult with them,” the report said.

This year, 22 per cent rate the council’s leadership as good or excellent, up from 14 per cent in 2022, but down from 37 per cent in 2021.

SWDC mayor Martin Connelly has responded positively to the report, while acknowledging challenges remain.


“The council is delighted to see the turnaround in public perception of its performance. In 2022 a council consisting of a new mayor and mostly new councillors came into office seeking to rebuild the community’s trust and confidence in our council. This survey shows that we have made a good beginning,” Connelly said.

“We know, however, that rebuilding trust takes time, and we will be seeking continued improvement over the next two years. Your council will continue to listen closely to residents’ concerns and to make themselves available to better understand.

“Clearly, we still have many challenges. We need to find ways to make the long-term funding of council services sustainable. And we still have work to do to improve our perception among the residents of Featherston. But I am optimistic that if we work with local communities in helping address those challenges, we will remain a wonderful district to live and work in. There are so many things to celebrate about the South Wairarapa”.

The results for some areas are strongly down on previous years.

Roading features as a strong area of dissatisfaction, with only three per cent of respondents very satisfied with rural roads and only 15 per cent satisfied, a total of 18 per cent, down from 26 per cent in 2022 and 36 per cent in 2021. Similarly, urban roads have a combined satisfaction rating of 28 per cent, down from 38 per cent in 2022 and 48 per cent in 2021.

“The survey results indicate a significant shift in public sentiment regarding the condition and maintenance of both rural and urban roads from 2021 to 2023,” the report said, describing the result as “growing public discontent”.

Results from people connected to town water supply are positive overall, with 68 per cent indicating satisfaction, up from 53 per cent in 2022, and 59 per cent in 2021.

Stormwater systems are another area of challenge for the council, with only 14 per cent saying they are satisfied with the council’s efforts to keep roads and pavements free from flooding in 2023. This is down from 19 per cent in 2022, and 29 per cent in 2021.

“Many respondents express frustration with the regular flooding that occurs, particularly in Featherston.

“They attribute this flooding to poor stormwater management and the inadequate maintenance of drains and culverts,” the report said.

The district’s libraries receive the highest satisfaction ratings, at 87 per cent. Sports grounds have a 82 per cent satisfaction rating, with playgrounds at 77 per cent, and cemeteries and public swimming pools at 76 per cent.

A council spokesperson said SWDC is pleased with improved perception in some areas, especially related to drinking water, and recognition and visibility of Māori culture and te reo in the district.

“It was also pleasing to see there has been a noticeable increase in the proportion of respondents who feel very self-reliant when it comes to emergency preparedness. There has been a continued decline in some other measures that we are keen to understand and respond to.”

Public Interest Journalism funded through NZ On Air

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