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Ratepayers vent anger at meeting

SWDC chief executive Harry Wilson [left], mayor Alex Beijen and facilitator Andrew Freeman at Greytown Town Hall. PHOTOS/SUE TEODORO

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Tensions ran high in Greytown at the first of three meetings to discuss recent rate hikes in South Wairarapa.

About 45 people were at the Tuesday night meeting at the town hall where South Wairarapa District Council fronted to explain this year’s rates rise miscommunication and options going forward.

In its Long Term Plan Consultation Document, the council indicated it needed to collect an extra 17.65 per cent in rates this financial year.

This contradicted the Long Term Plan itself, which stated the rates income for this financial year would be $19,921, an increase of 29.6 per cent on the year prior.

The rates resolution was signed off by councillors in June, and the LTP was adopted.

The resulting rates rise, unexpected by many, was criticised by ratepayers, some of whom are struggling.

The council issued a public apology in early September and promised to hold meetings and work on options to ease the rates burden.

The statement said the miscommunicated rates rise resulted from the council borrowing $1.5 million last year.

This was in addition to land value changes and increased rates charges from the regional council, the council said.

At Tuesday’s meeting, chief executive Harry Wilson apologised that the loan’s impact on rates rises was “miscommunicated”.

“That was the bit we missed, and we are genuinely sorry for not explaining this.

“It won’t happen again.”

People in the crowd laughed at this, and one attendee said, “yeah, right”.

John Norton at the SWDC meeting in Greytown to discuss rate rises.

When asked why it had taken five months to “get to this stage”, Wilson said, “when the first set of rates demands went out, we honestly believed it was the shift in land values that was causing the 29 per cent”.

“We literally thought that was it.”

He said it wasn’t until “we dug right down” that the loan impact was realised.

A statement on Wednesday from the council confirmed this.

“We became aware the 2020/21 loan, which reduced the rates charged to ratepayers, might be a key contributor to the rates rise for 2021/22 around mid-August 2021.

“We then commenced additional detailed analysis and before the end of August were certain of it.”

At the meeting, Mayor Alex Beijen said communicating the impact of the loan “would not have changed rates charged, but would have better informed ratepayers”.

He said underinvestment in council infrastructure in the past meant the district now faced rising costs.

“We now need to catch up and fast … in an equitable way.”

After the meeting, the reaction from attendees was mixed.

District councillor Brenda West said it was a plus the meetings were going ahead.

“We eventually got to hear from the public, which was fantastic. A big thumbs-up to all the people who came to the meeting because it was a big thing,” she said.

“It was important we heard what they had to say.”

Former district councillor Lee Carter said it was unusual for Greytown residents to express dissatisfaction as they had on Tuesday.

“I have never seen the Greytown public so enraged.

“In the past, there were a few people unhappy about things like drains or footpaths, but nothing like what I witnessed last night. This usually silent town really gave it to the council. The public was not happy.

“One and a half hours into the meeting, it was clear the public was still confused and not convinced of what they were being told,” she said.

“The council have a massive communication disconnect with the general public who do not trust this council.”

She was unsure what changes to the rates would follow but said the meeting had been helpful in other ways.

“I came away from last night’s meeting with an insight of how council has been working their rating system, how councillors are reacting to the public, and how deeply upset the public is.”

Greytown resident John Norton said the meeting showed the council had little understanding of their constituency but was hopeful the rates would now be dealt with.

“They have misread the community, and that was apparent last night,” he said.

“On a positive note, there are signs they are beginning to realise they need to re-address this year’s rates,” he said.

“I am looking forward to the next two meetings to see what the substantive outcomes might be.”

Facilitated by Masterton-based mediator Andrew Freeman, the meeting was initially structured but changed to an ad hoc format.

At one point, people were told they could only ask questions about a slideshow presentation about the rates at the start of the meeting.

West said it was inappropriate to “chuck information at people and then only expect them to ask questions about that material”.

Councillor Pip Maynard agreed and said she was there to hear what ratepayers wanted to ask about the rates.

One attendee asked if councillors could say if they knew they were signing off on a 29.6 per cent rates or a lower amount.

West said she thought she voted on an average increase of 14.28 per cent.

“That was my understanding, based on information I was given.”

An attendee then called out, “you were duped”.

Councillor Alistair Plimmer said he voted for the rates resolution because the increased investment was needed.

“We made a decision to borrow $1.5m, so we wouldn’t have sewage running down the streets.

“That loan doesn’t go away.

“Where we stuffed this up was that we didn’t communicate the effect of the loan.

“I was clear on what I was voting for.

“When I stood for election, I said I would vote to fix the infrastructure. That’s what I have delivered for you.

“I know this is not palatable, but what is forgotten is that people in Featherston got evacuated because they had raw sewage flowing down the street. Where do they fit in?”

Wilson said the council had been pleased to hear people’s views.

“We recognise the importance of having this opportunity to gather feedback and thoughts on council’s position to inform a final decision at the council meeting on November 17,” he said.

  • Meetings in Martinborough and Featherston are scheduled for next week.
  • Reporting by Local Democracy Reporting and the Wairarapa Times-Age


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