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Concern that rate rise will create divide

South Wairarapa rural ratepayers facing the possibility of massive rates rises this year are speaking out, saying it is unfair and divides urban and rural ratepayers.

South Wairarapa District Council [SWDC] has proposed rural ratepayers pay almost 30 per cent more in rates than this year.

With consultation underway, those affected claim the hike is divisive and excessive, and council services are not up to scratch.

A petition against the hike is currently circulating in the community.

SWDC propose an overall average rates hike of 15.9 per cent, split between rural [29 per cent], urban residential [10.9 per cent], and urban commercial [9.2 per cent].

One South Wairarapa ratepayer, who asked for confidentiality, questioned the basis for the split.

“Public consultation on such a disproportionate proposed rate increase has led to a noticeable split between urban and rural. At a time when our district needs to be united, SWDC has made a clear stand for the urban ratepayer base,” they said.

Emma Wing and her husband Matthew are two of those affected. They live in rural South Wairarapa, near a road that regularly floods. Wing said her rates had gone up 67 per cent recently, but her husband regularly rescued members of the public from rising floodwaters with his tractor when council workers were unable to get there in time. Wing said she was shocked to hear recently that the culverts related to the flooding are only checked by the council every two years.

She has started a petition protesting what she describes as the unfairness of the proposals.

“We just can’t afford the rates to go up any more. The services we get are inadequate. They [the council] want more money, but are not doing a good job,” she said.

“The culverts all along White Rock Rd and all the way to Tora regularly overflow and flood. Flooding and landslips will occur if these [culverts] are not checked.”

Wing said it is not uncommon for her husband to have to ferry people across the road with his tractor when flooding gets bad.

“The council are saying they want more money, but they provide rubbish services. I sometimes wonder if they even care,” she said.

She has started a paper-based petition against the rates, which is available in Martinborough, along with an updated version online.

In the consultation document setting out the proposals, SWDC explained the rural/urban split is done using a rating model that’s currently under review.

“This review is to understand whether the current allocation system remains a fair and equitable system, or whether it needs to change, and if so, how,” the document said.

Urban rates had been at a similar level to rural rates, but SWDC applied reductions by reducing some water-related costs.

“As water costs are primarily charged to urban ratepayers, reductions related to water costs, therefore, benefit urban ratepayers. Their rates increase has been minimised as a result of these cost reductions while the rural rates increase remained at the original level.”

South Wairarapa farmer Dan Riddiford, one of the district’s biggest ratepayers, said SWDC referring to a future rating review for rural ratepayers while continuing with a substantial increase in the meantime is fundamentally unfair.

“The rural community has been most unfairly targeted by the council in proposing to increase rates by 29 per cent because these ratepayers have been denied the benefit of a first principles rates review,” he said.

Such a review would examine and identify what benefits the rural community receive
for their rates money.

“Instead, we have a promise of a rates review finishing in 12 months’ time. Justice delayed is justice denied.”

Riddiford said he thinks the problem points to a lack of competence in the way SWDC manages some core services – like roading.

SWDC interim chief executive Paul Gardner said SWDC understood people’s concerns. He previously encouraged residents to take part in the consultation process, which included drop-in sessions in urban and rural areas.

“We absolutely understand that the proposed rate rise is a very real burden for people on top of inflationary and other financial pressures. We can assure our communities that staff and elected members have been through the budget line-by-line and that we will continue to have a cost-saving lens on all our activities and services.

“As you’ll see on our website and in our consultation document, there are certain costs that fall to rural ratepayers caused by the fact that 70 per cent of our district is rural. Urban ratepayers also have certain costs they solely meet, such as new footpaths. Water costs are also largely urban,” he said.

Consultation on the rates is open until 5pm, today.

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