Carterton councillors vote to adopt the long-term plan. PHOTO/TOM TAYLOR
After months of deliberations and public consultations, Carterton councillors signed off their 2021-2031 draft long-term plan in a meeting on Wednesday.
The document did not pass unanimously, with councillors Jill Greathead and Steve Cretney voting against adoption of the LTP.
Many councillors expressed dissatisfaction with local government rating systems but accepted the LTP on the basis that it was a requirement under the Local Government Act.
In Carterton, rates would rise an average of 5.65 per cent.
Councillor Dale Williams said councils’ rating systems gave them limited ability to raise funds to deliver on their legal responsibilities.
Deputy Mayor Rebecca Vergunst said council needed to be prudent with money while also working towards progress.
“We need to make sure that every dollar we are spending is an investment in our community and we have tangible returns from that.”
However, she said the district’s rating system was flawed.
“I think elected members across New Zealand would say our rating systems are broken and unsustainable.”
Vergunst had previously voiced her opposition to the uniform annual general charge percentage included in rates.
In Carterton, the UAGC was set at 30 per cent of total rates revenues – the maximum allowed by law.
Vergunst said the UAGC meant that more costs were forced on to lower-value properties in the district.
Councillor Rob Stockley said the rating system was very sensitive to any decisions the council made.
“It’s not that any one rate is going up – it’s the spread between low and high value properties. The rating system is not designed to cope with that much spread. Maximising the UAGC pulls that spread in, but it lifts the bottom up. There’s not a lot we can do.”
Councillor Greathead, who voted against the LTP, said rates had become unaffordable.
Mayor Greg Lang said rates affordability was “a key driver of where we’ve been heading”.
Lang said the LTP reflected the affordability concern as much as possible while also addressing other priorities.
Acting chief executive Blair King said the overall driver of the plan was to provide a balanced budget for council.
Section 100 of the act stated that “A local authority must ensure that each year’s projected operating revenues are set at a level sufficient to meet that year’s projected operating expenses”.
“It doesn’t start from a premise of what is affordable,” King said.
Cretney, who voted against the LTP, said that to keep rates to a minimum, Carterton District Council could have decided against the inclusion of some projects in the LTP.
The council had released a public consultation document on the draft LTP in March.
Cretney said he could not agree to adopt the final LTP due to the number of changes made to the original consultation document.
“I look at the initial document that was sent out to the community for consultation and the latest document that we were provided. An incredible amount of changes have been made in the financial side of the two [documents].”
Cretney said councillors and the community had not had enough time to understand the updated financial information.
Auditor John Whittal said that changes had been made to the document since the public consultation stage.
“Although the council’s preferred options were selected in each case, the plan itself is based on the latest available information,” Whittal said.
“Where some assumptions have changed, or where additional information is available, that needs to be taken into account and the financial situations adjusted for those.”
The adoption of the draft LTP was initially scheduled for a week earlier.
The date was pushed back to allow council time to update the document to include several changes, including the financial model of the council’s Eastern Growth Plan.
Since the formation of the draft LTP, the New Zealand Transport Agency had also indicated that Carterton would not receive as much funding as requested.
Due to this funding shortfall, the council had updated its financials to reflect $100,000 less revenue for the first three years of the LTP.
Lang said rates affordability had been at the front of the council’s mind throughout the entire LTP process.
He said there had been high levels of pre-engagement on the plan and the council had taken on board all submissions.