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Featherston confronts SWDC

Mayor Alex Beijen at the Featherston meeting. PHOTO/SUE TEODORO

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The second of three meetings called by South Wairarapa District Council [SWDC] about this year’s rates miscommunications finished leaving some unclear what, if any, rates changes there would be.

More than 70 attended the Monday evening event at Featherston’s ANZAC hall, where mayor Alex Beijen and chief executive Harry Wilson explained unexpected rate rises of more than 29 per cent.

In the animated meeting, Beijen and Wilson fielded questions on issues ranging from council expenses to failing infrastructure. Some doubted how and if confidence in SWDC could be re-established.

“The elephant in the room is trust.”

This was the sentiment of Featherston resident Theodore Taptiklis, who has been a South Wairarapa ratepayer for 25 years. He said a 29 per cent rates increase “in a world of five per cent inflation is wild fantasy … it’s totally unreasonable”.

He said he got a sense of “arrogance and entitlement” from the council’s response to the miscommunication and felt the council’s proposed remedy was “not good enough”.

The council is set to approve a remedy on November 17. Its preferred option for engagement is to make reductions in costs that do not significantly reduce levels of service and carry over savings to the next financial year.

“I want my money back now,” Taptiklis said.

He said the council was charged by ratepayers to do “a number of straightforward tasks” and said that costs should be easily predictable “on the basis of many years of prior experience”.

Mayor Alex Beijen said: “Thank you for a very simplistic view of what the council does”, to which the audience reacted with shouts.

“Council services are not static,” Beijen said, nor did they run by the consumer price index – “we don’t buy cauliflower”.

Another ratepayer asked: “Given the public was misled with an unknown loan impacting the rates increase, what steps are the council taking to regain community trust in financial decisions?”.

Wilson said he understood there was a “confidence issue”.

“If I was in your shoes, I would have the same issue,” he said.

Featherston resident Jim Hedley expressed his dissatisfaction by reading out a pre-prepared statement.

“This mess is all of your own making because you have not been open, transparent or up-front about the rates increase.

“Why did you not come out at the start and say it was a 29 per cent increase?” he asked.

Another attendee described the issue as a ‘debacle’ and said SWDC should rectify the mistake.

Wilson apologised, saying the council should have communicated better and earlier.

“We’re sorry. We should have done a better job informing you,” he said.

Resident Jennifer Grey took a more conciliatory approach.

“Problems with public feeling could be resolved if people feel they are being listened to more,” she said.

After the meeting, some expressed doubts.

Mark Shepherd, chair of the Featherston Community Board, was unsure what impact the meetings would have on people’s rates.

”I think we were palmed off. At the end of the meeting, there was no talk about reducing rates. The whole meeting was just excuses,” he said.

“It was never going to be a two-way conversation.”

“They keep comparing us with other councils, and for me, that’s just a red herring. They had no clear explanation of what happened.

“The confidence in the council is just not there anymore,” he said.

Martinborough Community Board deputy chair Aidan Ellims said real solutions were needed.

  • Reporting by Local Democracy Reporting and the Wairarapa Times-Age

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