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Wednesday, April 17, 2024
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Residents express views on key issues

Masterton District Council’s Annual Plan submission hearings have wrapped up and elected members have largely been asked to trim the fat and focus on “need-to-haves”.

On the first day of hearings on Wednesday, Masterton Ratepayers and Residents Association [MRRA] president Lyn Riley, pleaded with councillors to “take a serious look again” at the proposed rates increase “during these turbulent and uncertain times”.

She was disappointed the council did not publish a draft annual plan alongside its consultation document.

“Without the annual plan, we can’t identify any areas for further savings,” she said.

“When we do get access to that plan, it’s too late to do anything about it.”

Of particular concern to MRRA was the cost of council staffing.

“Not that long ago, council had 73FTEs costing $5.8m [per year].

“The latest information we have indicates there are 125FTEs.

“Of those, 32 earn more than 100k and at least one earns more than 200k. Twenty-four managers earn an average salary of 138k.

“In 2023, you are proposing 140FTEs, costing $14.4m, an extra 15 staff.”

Riley asked that the council instruct its chief executive officer to “place a hiring freeze on all non-essential roles in council and re-spread the money into infrastructure, or get rid of the consultants”.

“Please remember ratepayers are not an ATM.

“Forty per cent of pensioners depend on $25k a year before tax to live on.

“It’s a grim reality for many old Kiwis who chew up a large chunk of their fortnightly pension paying for sky-high market rents and inflated food.

“So to add to their burden to pay for council’s large wage increases will push many literally out into the cold.

“Many pensioners are already down to eating one meal a day to save costs.”

Another hot topic over the two days of hearings was the future of the civic facility project.

Masterton developer David Borman, whose vision for Masterton’s civic centre was a popular alternative to the council’s previous $71.3 million concept, spoke on Wednesday.

Borman volunteered to be on the steering committee for the project and said he would
offer his expertise at no cost.

He suggested the council get moving on demolishing the existing town hall, which is earthquake prone.

This would not include what is commonly referred to as the town hall facade.

This could be done and tidied up within six months for $400k, he said.

The next stage would be to strengthen the municipal building to “make it tidy and ready for tenants”.

This work could be done for less than $3m, he said.

“Once strengthened, I’d personally like to see the council take over the ground floor and move out of Queen St – you’re paying about $170k in rent for Queen St [each year].”

The final stage would be to build a new 800-seater town hall where the existing town hall is sitting but larger.

“The town needs a town hall,” Borman said.

“We need to bring concerts, shows, and cultural events back to the town, large funerals, weddings, etc.

“It needs to be multi-use and allow for seating removal.”

He priced this build stage at $17.5m.

Another project he wanted to see come to fruition was the upgrade and extension of the existing town library, which he priced at $4m.

“By July 2025, you could have all this completed,” he told the council.

Former Masterton Mayor Bob Francis reconfirmed his support of Borman’s plan during his presentation at Thursday’s hearing.

He was disappointed that by the time a replacement town hall could be open, Masterton would have been without one for at least a 10-year period.

In that time, the town had missed multiple opportunities to play host to events that would have bolstered the town’s economy, he said.

In total, 203 people submitted to the council’s Annual Plan.

Of submitters who shared a view, 65 per cent agreed with the council’s overall strategy to reduce rates and 19 per cent disagreed. Sixteen per cent were “neutral”.

Regarding the council’s $71.3 million civic facility concept as per the Long-Term Plan, 82 per cent agreed this was no longer affordable for the community, 11 per cent disagreed it was unaffordable, and seven per cent were “neutral”.

The current town hall site proved the popular location for the civic facility, with 81 per cent of submitters wanting to build there. Eleven per cent disagreed with using the town hall site and eight per cent were “neutral”.

– NZLDR

Public Interest Journalism funded through NZ On Air

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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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