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SWDC rates revolt

South Wairarapa District Council offices in Martinborough. PHOTO/SUE TEODORO

No plans for public meetings

Sue Teodoro

South Wairarapa District Council are pushing back in response to public calls for an open meeting to discuss rates hikes.

A spokesperson said the council had no plans to publicly debate the issue, saying individual meetings were better.

“We are considering the best ways to communicate with residents and haven’t ruled this out completely. We have had numerous one-on-one sessions with residents and these have been appreciated by them because it allows them to get a detailed understanding of their unique situations,” they said.

“We will continue to do that for now.”

The council issued rates bills which they said were an average of just over 14 per cent up on last year. Ratepayers and others disputed this, saying the hikes are 28 per cent higher.

The statement about the public meeting comes as multiple residents call for the council to front up and debate the issue publicly.

A show of hands at this week’s Martinborough meeting about the contentious ‘Innovating Streets’ programme was overwhelmingly in support of SWDC holding an open meeting to inform ratepayers about the huge hikes.

The council refused to add a discussion about the rates as an extraordinary item to the agenda at the latest council meeting.

Martinborough Community Board deputy-chairman Aidan Ellims said the council held a workshop last week with all councillors and community board chairs to discuss rates.

Ellims said the public should be informed and he supported calls for a public meeting.

“The show of hands demonstrated how many people want to have a public meeting on the rates,” he said.

More than 150 are estimated to have attended the meeting with about 80 per cent voting for a public meeting on rates.

“Members of the community board are keen to see a public meeting so people can have the rates calculations and issues explained to them. It is our view there needs to be a meeting held.”

Featherston Community Board chairman Mark Shepherd previously asked council chief executive Harry Wilson for a public meeting in Featherston about the rates, but was declined.

People have instead been invited for one-on-one meetings with council staff to discuss their complaints. In response, Martinborough resident Daphne Geisler said she expected elected representatives to speak to the community as a whole.

Geisler was one of several who made public submissions at the July council meeting expressing concern about the hikes. She also appeared on Breakfast TV and the national programme to discuss the issue.

“I spoke and represented myself, I spoke of my analysis of the numbers, my concern, my diminishing trust in council and my loss of confidence. It was, however, clear that others who did not have a speaking slot that day had concerns. I believe there were many emails, phone calls, letters, Facebook comments, many conversations all voicing similar concerns,” she said.

She was one of those called in for a private chat.

“We would also welcome the opportunity to discuss this matter further with you in person so we can respond to any additional queries or concerns that you may have in a productive and timely way. We are concerned that the nature of the wider public debate and allegations of impropriety is creating confusion and mistrust and impugning professional reputations,” an email to Geisler from the council said.

A council spokesperson previously said the council saw little purpose in having a public meeting on the issue.

“Enquiries from the public are best managed on a case-by-case basis as each situation is unique. When comparing even two similarly valued properties, each could have started on a different land value basis, have different features that lead to different revaluation, thus leading to different percentage rate increase,” they said.

“In order for a public meeting to have benefit, apart from providing information which can be, and is being, done in other media, there needs to be a purpose resulting in discussion that results in a change.

“A rating review has already been announced. The effects of increased property values cannot be altered by council. A public meeting is not going to change that for the 7000
rate-paying households.”

Former district councillor Lee Carter was dismayed at the council’s response.

“I’m astounded that the council is not willing to hold public meetings to help people understand this unprecedented rate rise,” she said.

“This arrogant approach of refusing to hold public meetings for our communities is very disappointing and seems very unfair. If the council are going to take our money the least they could do is explain in person, in layman’s terms, what exactly makes up our recent rate rise.”

She said many were struggling financially and psychologically because of the big rates rises and they worried how they would manage.

“Some genuine care and transparency from council would go a long way at this present time.”

The council issued a press release where Mayor Alex Beijen explained the rates hike. This came after a riotous meeting where about 60 people walked out after the council refused to allow the rates to be publicly debated as an extraordinary agenda item.

The council press release is available on its Facebook page and on its website.

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