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‘I just hope I can afford to die here’

Martinborough pensioners David and Carol Harris. PHOTO/SUPPLIED
South Wairarapa’s vulnerable hit hardest

While South Wairarapa District Council considers calls to hold a public meeting, the region’s most vulnerable are struggling to come up with extra cash to pay their rates.

Martinborough Community Board chairman Mel Maynard asked the council to answer questions at a public forum about substantial rates hikes, citing elderly residents concern at the new bills.

Estimates put rates in the district at up more than 28 per cent, but the council says the figure is just over 14 per cent.

“Some of our elder ratepayers have major concerns about how they will make ends meet with this year’s rates increase,” she said.

“It is of serious concern. These are not people who would stand up and push themselves forward. They sit there quietly and are probably the most vulnerable within our community.”

One of those affected is Martinborough resident David Harris. The 78-year-old pensioner was born in the town and has lived in South Wairarapa his whole life. He retired some years ago and lives with his wife Carol.

He has suffered a severe medical issue requiring hospitalisation and a lengthy recuperation. The couple’s rates are up more than 25 per cent and they are wondering how they will manage.

“I’m lucky to be here,” he said of his illness.

”I just hope I can afford to die here.”

The couple bought their home about 40 years ago and love living in the neighbourhood where they have many friends and are active community members.

“He doesn’t need to pay unnecessary bills at his age,” Carol said.

“I’m very annoyed about it because we all live within our means and the council do not. It’s not as if we’ve had a big catastrophe and infrastructure has been damaged,” David said.

“The council should work within the rates take.

“I know what’s fair play and what’s not fair play and this is not fair play.

“Regardless what our properties are worth it shouldn’t make any difference to the cost of running the services.

“There’s a lot of upset people out there,” he said.

The couple are having to finance the extra cash from their emergency savings fund.

Another pensioner hit hard is Featherston resident Laurie Brett.

Brett accepts there is increased demand for services but questions the way the increase has been managed.

The extra costs means he will be forced to make sacrifices.

“I’m a volunteer at Masterton hospital two days a week. The latest huge increase in rates impacts on my ability to travel to Masterton to continue with my volunteering,” he said.

“The latest increase in rates was a very large, sudden, increase rather than being spread out over a longer period of time.

“Individuals, particularly pensioners, simply no longer have the funds available with the cost of living now being so high,” he said.

Brett said he would have to put aside an extra $75 a week to pay the new rates bill.

“The only compensation in all of this is it still a lot less than paying a weekly rental on a home in Featherston.”

Brett has written to Local Government Minister Nanaia Mahuta asking her to intervene.

Down the road on a farm in rural South Wairarapa, Kevin and Colleen Putt are struggling to understand why their rates have gone up so much.

After the council’s invitation for one-on-one meetings they rang the council, but did not recommend it.

“The one-on-one meetings are a complete failure based on our experience. It was very bullying. I feel we are not being heard and we are not getting any answers,” Colleen said.

The Putts say they get very little for their money.

“The road is pretty rough and we get it graded occasionally. The road is not sealed,” Kevin said.

“The road is regularly blocked or flooded. It is literally full of potholes and slips.

“It is a very dangerous road,” Colleen said.

“People are going to have to move because they can’t afford to pay their rates.”

A council spokesperson said they will consider whether to have a public meeting at their next meeting.

“This needs to follow a formal process and be tabled at the next council meeting, which isn’t until 15 September. It will be addressed there,” they said.

  • The council website advises people in difficulty with their rates bills to telephone them on [06]306-9611.

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