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Ratepayer group determined to overcome apathy

Masterton Ratepayers and Residents Association secretary Lyn Riley and president David Farlow. PHOTO/EMILY IRELAND

Disinterest has repeatedly unravelled ratepayers associations in Masterton. The newest ratepayers and residents association has elected its executive board. Local democracy reporter EMILY IRELAND writes.

The year is 1929.

On page four of the Wairarapa Daily Times is a small story touching on the turbulent history of ratepayers associations in Masterton.

The piece wouldn’t look out of place today.

“From time to time, during the last 50 years, there have been formed in Masterton associations for the purpose of keeping closely in touch with municipal affairs,” the article said.

“Ratepayers have had their own particular institutions, but all of them, after having flourished for a time, faded away and died owing to the apathy of their members.

“It was when the ratepayers had serious grievances that these associations came into being, and when these were adjusted with the Borough Council, these particular ratepayers became apathetic, and the body to which they belonged gradually faded out of existence.”

Masterton Town Hall before the 1942 earthquake. PHOTO/SUPPLIED

Skip forward 92 years and the emotive civic facility project in Masterton has given rise to the latest ratepayers association, headed by David Farlow as president and Lyn Riley as secretary.

But the duo are adamant their association is not a single-issue beast.

“It would be fair to say the civic centre was the catalyst, but we don’t want to be seen as a civic centre single-issue organisation. It’s much broader than that,” Farlow said.

“Yes sure, the civic centre is a lot of money and it’s a major project, but there are lots of other issues that are of concern to our members.”

When vying for presidency of the association, members were asked to make a 30-second pitch of why they should lead the board.

None mentioned the council’s $31 million civic facility project, Farlow said.

“We all mentioned accountability, transparency, and wasteful spending.

“We want to hold the council to account on those issues.”

And Masterton’s apathy, touched upon those 92 years ago in the newspaper, hasn’t budged.

But where apathy was the cause of death for many previous ratepayers associations, it was the reason this newest one sprung to life.

“I think there is a lot of apathy in this town and that is why nothing has been done,” Riley said.

Riley went to college in Masterton, but has since lived abroad and most recently lived in Lower Hutt before moving back to Masterton.

She said although there was a lot of apathy in the district, “there are also a lot of new people coming to this community”, like her.

When she discovered there wasn’t an existing ratepayers and residents association, she sprung to action with fellow ratepayer Derek Pickup to create one.

She said many Masterton residents moaned about council issues online and on social media, “but don’t do anything about it”.

“I’m an action person and I like to do things.”

Of some concern was her observation of why people decided not to speak out.

“What I hear too often is that everybody is related to somebody here.

“There’s always a cousin or a third cousin connected to local issues, and people are too scared to start anything because it could affect them and their daily lives or their business,” she said.

“We have a lot of members who are scared to put their head above the parapet.”

The Masterton Pissoir outside the Masterton Post Office, c1910.

And that’s where their ratepayers association comes into play.

“[Residents] are happy for people like us who have nothing to lose to put our heads up,” Riley said.

“I’m not always happy to get it knocked off either but I’m of the generation where we have had life experiences and we’ve been knocked down but we still get back up again, we are very resilient.

“We are also happy to keep doing it for the betterment of our community.”

Farlow said he and Riley had met Masterton Mayor Lyn Patterson last Friday.

“She welcomed the engagement and was happy to use us as a consultative medium.”

He said it was healthy for the council to have a watchdog like them, who would hold elected members to account.

Farlow said the group was still very new and one committee meeting had been held.

They would not disclose the numbers or demographic of their membership, but said it was a good mix of residents and ratepayers of varying ages and ethnicities.

Farlow said he was working to establish some philosophies to guide the group and get constructive results for residents and ratepayers.

“Some ratepayers associations and some members would like to stand on the sidelines and throw rocks,” he said.

Others fawn over the perceived glamour of politics and get easily sucked into being an arm of the council’s bidding.

“There’s a middle way, I think” – and that was the path he intended to go down.

“Our main priority is making sure Masterton people are getting bang for their buck.

“We’re going to stick to our knitting and the core issues, just like the council should.”

It would appear the motivations for this newest ratepayers association mirrors that of what the 1929 article called for.

The 92-year-old document said a ratepayers association in Masterton could give the council valuable assistance in the matter of advice, “and, at the same time, act as a brake upon the wheels of extravagance”.

“A ratepayers association prepared for deeds, and not wasting time in words, is what should be formed in Masterton,” the Wairarapa Daily Times article said.

Farlow and Riley ask that anyone who might be interested in joining the Masterton Ratepayers and Residents Association visit their website www.mastertonrra.org for more information.

Other active ratepayers associations in Wairarapa include the Castlepoint Ratepayers Association, Riversdale Beach Community Association, and the South Wairarapa Ratepayers and Residents Network. — NZLDR

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