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CDC puts price on certain information

Carterton District Council. PHOTO/FILE

Carterton District Council has now specified a charge for official information requests that take more than an hour to answer.

But its chief executive says the council will not charge for “reasonable requests” from ratepayers or local media seeking information “relevant to the community we serve”.

“We will continue to operate with transparency and in support of local democracy,” chief executive Geoff Hamilton said.

The Local Government Official Information and Meetings Act [LGOIMA] allows individuals, groups, and organisations to request information held by local government agencies.

The purpose of the act is to increase the availability of official information to residents to promote accountability and enable more effective participation in local government.

Carterton District Council’s proposed schedule of fees for the 2022-23 year states the council would charge $60 per half hour to answer requests in excess of one hour.

The council would not charge for “reasonable requests from ratepayers or local media”.

The proposed half-hourly rate is almost double the $38 charge recommended by the government for Official Information Act requests.

Still, Hamilton said the council was adhering to the guidelines by providing the first hour free of charge.

The council has now included a separate fee for LGOIMAs, “which will relate to requests that take up substantial staff time”, Hamilton said.

“The separate fee will recover some of the cost to council when senior staff are spending hours on bulk requests that do not directly benefit the residents of Carterton.”

From the end of January to March 20, Carterton District Council received 15 LGOIMAs.

Details of 10 of these requests show two were from national media outlets, two were from university students doing research projects, and five appeared to be residents asking for information relevant to Carterton.

The other was from Federated Farmers.

At a February Carterton District Council meeting, councillor Dale Williams said some organisations “abused” the LGOIMA.

“It was set up for local people or people with a connection to the Carterton district to have serious questions answered.

“Half of these are for barristers acting for their clients – in other words, council doing their work for them – which they then on-charge to their client,” he said about the previous month’s requests.

“And the other half are Radio NZ and Fair Go helping them make programmes.

“That’s not what LGOIMA was set up for.

“It’s awfully frustrating when we are working as a council on limited resources and stressed budgets, and we’re paying staff to help Fair Go and RNZ to run a programme.”

At the February meeting, Hamilton said a “large requester” had asked for more than 1000 pages of information, “which highlighted to staff that we really do need to ensure we propose a charge for that”.

Neighbouring South Wairarapa District Council [SWDC] supplies answers to most requests for information free of charge, its website states.

“We are entitled to charge for requests for information,” SWDC states.

“Charging is based on the hours spent on a request, which includes the processing of files or any copying that is required. Our charging policy is based on the Ministry of Justice Guidelines.”

Masterton District Council’s website does not specify LGOIMA charges.

LGOIMAs are also not included in the council’s schedule of fees and charges. – NZLDR

  • Public Interest Journalism funded through NZ On Air

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