Monday, April 15, 2024
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Plenty of sleepless nights

I’ve said it before, and I will say it again.

There is no tougher time in local body politics than working through the Long Term Plan, from which the end result will be the projected rates increase for the next 12 months.

It is the thing sleepless nights are made of, both for staff and councillors, all of whom are acutely aware that whatever the increase, it will create hardship for a certain percentage of their ratepayers.

The one saving grace is that, at first, the increase is only a projection, because the opportunity is then given to ratepayers themselves to have their say on what is being proposed through a comprehensive consultation process.

Unfortunately, history shows that not only in Masterton but all over New Zealand, the response to consultation is invariably poor, with far less than 50 per cent of the ratepayer population bothering to read the documentation, let alone forward a submission.

Maybe this year will be different. After all, there are many councils who are proposing rates rises of between 15 and 25 per cent and if those sort of figures don’t encourage greater numbers of folk to get involved in the consultation process, then what will?

The fact Masterton is not in that bracket with a projected average rates increase of 10.6pc isn’t being celebrated around our council table though. Far from it.

Yes, we can rightfully point to the fact that much of the increase is due to outside influences such as rising insurance and audit costs unexpected weather events and inflation but, as I said before, it will be a burden on many of our ratepayers and that quickly tempers any glow of satisfaction.

Like practically every other region in the country, we have ailing infrastructure desperately in need of repair or replacement, especially when it comes to water and roading, the latter made worse for us by the ravages of Cyclone Gabrielle.

Sure, we could kick those cans down the road for a few more years to help keep the present rates within more reasonable bounds, but what would that solve? Nothing other than make the situation even more dire for councils to come. Hardly responsible governance.

So when you look at what we are proposing for the next 12 months the only increases in service of any magnitude come in the water and roading spaces, hardly surprising is it?

Local Government New Zealand president Sam Broughton has estimated hundreds of billions of dollars are needed for the nation’s infrastructure to be brought up to standard.

I repeat, hundreds of billions of dollars!

And he rightly sounds the warning that if central government doesn’t come to the party with funding mechanisms which will allow councils to get serious about rectifying that situation, then who knows what the outcome will be … other than the fact it will be catastrophic for them and their constituents.

The uncertainty which always comes with a change in Government didn’t make things easier for the current Long Tern Play discussions.

It’s all very well our leaders talking about repealing the likes of 3Waters, but without knowing what that repeal will require councils to do to get the best results for their communities, nothing can be taken for granted. In fact, it has to be a case of business as usual until the finer detail is worked through.

This column is not intended in any way to push the “poor us” line as far as our council is concerned.

Being an elected member is a huge privilege, but with that privilege comes the realisation that, at times, you have to make hard decisions which will put you fairly and squarely in the firing line. You just have to accept that doing your best won’t be good enough for some people and respect their opinion even if you don’t agree with it.

Not a job for the faint-hearted for sure!

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