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SWDC rates under the spotlight

SWDC mayor Alex Beijen answers rates questions at a public meeting in Martinborough. PHOTO/FILE

The Martinborough Community Board [MCB] has requested an urgent meeting with South Wairarapa District Council [SWDC] officials after a tense exchange about the upcoming annual plan.

The exchange happened at last week’s MCB meeting when rates arrears were discussed.

After deferring the arrears discussion, the group addressed the process for this year’s annual plan and setting next year’s rates.

MCB deputy chairman Aidan Ellims asked how SWDC was doing incorporating savings of more than $300k discussed at public meetings last year into this year’s annual plan.

“Has any progress been made on implementing those savings or deferrals,” he asked.

SWDC mayor Alex Beijen said the matter was being considered by council with regards to the annual plan.

“The consultation decision will be made within the next couple of weeks,” said Amanda Bradley, SWDC general manager policy and governance.

“The process will take a bit of time to organise. We have to make the decision on whether or not to consult.”

Bradley said if the matters stayed within what was in the Long Term Plan [LTP], there was no legislative requirement to consult.

“If we deviate significantly from that LTP, we need to consult,” she said.

“To consult, you have to have choices.”

“If we don’t have any options before us, it is very difficult to consult. Does that make sense,” Bradley asked.

MCB chairwoman Mel Maynard asked whether there would be the opportunity for people to make submissions for the annual plan.

“What I am saying is there is no legal requirement unless we deviate from the LTP,” Bradley said.

She stressed no decision on process had yet been made.

Ellims said there was an understanding in the community the unexpected rates rise of almost 30 per cent last year would be reviewed in the annual plan.

“That was a big issue for the community and is still a big issue. The community as a whole would find it difficult not to have a period of consultation on the annual plan this year,” he said.

Beijen said the item was not on the agenda, but there seemed to be some conceptions or misconceptions that needed to be addressed.

“You may want to request of Harry [Wilson, SWDC chief executive] an update as to the annual plan process.”

“We are trying to reduce rates down from what was in the LTP so we are working through that,” he said.

“This is not a topic for a community board meeting. It’s not on the agenda,” Beijen said.

“As the chair of the MCB I feel a bit blindsided,” Maynard said.

“My role is to make sure I make submissions to the annual plan.”

The MCB has now requested a meeting with Wilson and issued a statement.

“MCB were surprised to hear SWDC are considering not consulting on the 2022 Annual plan. Ratepayers and residents were told at the public rates meetings in November 2021 that this would be the opportunity – in the annual plan consultation – where the community could provide feedback on what had occurred, and where the rates could be reviewed,” the statement said.

Beijen said consultation was expensive and time consuming.

“While the community board’s feedback had been taken on board, budgets were a serious matter that is the responsibility of council and not community boards.

“Savings had been highlighted in the proposed action plans, but council was now considering the inflation rate, water standard changes, and continued development trends to see if the council could stick to the proposed rates change in the LTP,” he said.

He said it had not been well understood the 29 per cent rates increase was spread over two annual rates reviews but the impact was felt in one year.

Beijen stressed no decisions had yet been made.

“The consulted rate is around 8 per cent and we hope to keep within this.”

The SWDC said the council had not decided whether or what kind of engagement would occur.

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