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SW mayoral candidate lays into council

A former South Wairarapa District Council [SWDC] mayoral candidate is criticising this year’s proposed rates hikes for – among other things – not properly setting out cost-saving measures and being unclear about other details.

Daphne Geisler previously criticised SWDC’s financial management in 2021 when the council mistakenly said total rates increases would be about 17 per cent when they were in fact 29 per cent.

This year SWDC has proposed an average rates rise of 15.9 per cent, with rural ratepayers facing a 29 per cent hike, and urban about 10 per cent.

Geisler noted that SWDC is increasing its spending at a time when many households are struggling financially.

“It is insulting to be told multiple times how council face the same cost pressures as I do, and yet they have not shown reductions in their spending at all and, in fact, have increased rates overall by 15.9 per cent,” she said.

“Most of us work within a budget, so if we must repair, replace, or improve something this week, we must forgo something next week.

“The consultation shows that ‘line by line’ has been reviewed, but we have no detailed information.

“I see no restraint being described other than in vague terms, such as ‘made every effort to minimise costs’.

“It’s not the effort we want to hear about, it’s the actual savings.”

Geisler said it is not apparent to her from the consultation documents how SWDC has developed a prudent budget, pulled back costs, and reassessed strategies to manage spending in the light of current inflationary and cost pressures.

She said cutting water spending might end up costing more over time, as well as impacting service levels and creating possible health risks.

Geisler also pointed to staffing costs rising by more than $1 million between 2020 and 2022, while ratepayers are being consulted on $170,000 of grants.

SWDC Interim chief executive Paul Gardner said he understands concerns about proposed rises.

“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,” he said.

Gardner said SWDC faces the same inflationary pressures as any member or organisation in the community and has service-level obligations to meet.

“The council, on your behalf, must maintain a level of service that keeps everyone safe and all our core services operating properly.”

Gardner encouraged people to look at SWDC online consultation documents, including the annual plan FAQs page.

“The consultation is open until Saturday, and we encourage people to engage in the process and make your voice heard by making a submission. Your views are incredibly valuable to us as your elected members make these critical decisions for our district as a whole,” he said.

Consultation submission forms are online at swdc.govt.nz.

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