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Council’s proposed rates increase ‘unaffordable’

Masterton’s council watchdog is urging residents to make their views known about the proposed “unaffordable” rates rise.

Lyn Riley, president of the Masterton Ratepayers and Residents Association [MRRA], said the proposed average rates increase of 10.6 per cent was “unaffordable for many” and showed “a complete lack of responsibility from council”.

Residents can make a submission in the upcoming Long-Term Plan [LTP] consultation, with Riley asking the council not to use the process as a “tick box exercise with a predetermined outcome”.

Masterton Mayor Gary Caffell, however, has previously maintained that keeping the rates increase as low as 10.6 per cent had been “a damned difficult process” that the council had worked very hard to get to.

At last week’s Masterton District Council [MDC] meeting, Caffell said there was “no question” that this year’s proposed rates increase would “create hardship” for people.

“We’re not sitting here celebrating around the table about the fact that we may very well have the lowest rate increase in the lower North Island,” he said.

“That’s not a celebration. It’s something we have worked very hard to get to. Maybe we need to work harder, I don’t know. “It isn’t something that is sustainable for people when we keep increasing our rates, and I think everybody appreciates that.”

At a meeting of the MRRA on Tuesday night, members discussed the proposed rates rise and the town hall and library options put forward by the council.

Riley said the council’s chief executive was “rightly making large commitments to upgrade infrastructure, including roading and water, and is where the council’s only priorities should be”.

However, members were concerned with the potential cost blowouts of the town hall project.

“If the [preferred] town hall project is approved by our councillors, this will add an extra $302 each year in rates for the average ratepayer – loan funded with compounding interest added over many years – all paid for by rates.”

The preferred town hall option is to demolish the town hall and municipal building, build a new town hall, and expand Waiata House, retaining the facade.

The estimated capital cost of this option is $38.67m. Of this, $1.63m would retain the facade and $7.93m would extend Waiata House.

“Our expectation is the final project costs will increase substantially and will become an even bigger debt burden on ratepayers in the years ahead,” Riley said.

When asked which of the three town hall options MRRA will be supporting, Riley said the group’s focus will be on encouraging members to make an individual submission on the Long-Term Plan.

“We have recently surveyed our members and already know there is very little support from members to pay more than $150 per annum in rates for a new town hall,” she said.

“The MRRA will meet with those who have been involved in the current town hall project to get a clearer picture of why the latest estimates have risen.”

Riley encouraged residents to submit their views on the Long-Term Plan consultation document.

Meanwhile, the New Zealand Taxpayers Union [NZTU] is urging Masterton District Council to choose the cheapest town hall option, which is to demolish the town hall and municipal buildings and retain Waiata House and Queen St premises at a cost of $3.35m.

“We commend the council for putting out this less costly option to ratepayers for consultation, but it should not simply be a box-ticking exercise for a predetermined decision of the council’s preferred more expensive option,” an NZTA spokesperson said.

“During consultation, we urge the council to consider the needs of the large number of ratepayers struggling with the cost of living, rather than just the wishes of special interest groups.”

Riley said MRRA Committee members are freely available to help anyone in the community complete a submission.

“You do not have to be a MRRA member to ask for assistance. We can be contacted via email [email protected] or via the contact form on our website: www.mastertonrra.org.”

-NZLDR

Public Interest Journalism funded through NZ On Air

Emily Ireland
Emily Ireland
Emily Ireland is Wairarapa’s Local Democracy Reporter, a Public Interest Journalism role funded through NZ On Air. Emily has worked at the Wairarapa Times-Age for seven years and has a keen interest in council decision-making and transparency.

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