ORC to consider slightly lower rates rise

Otago Regional Council staff have proposed less spending and a lower rates rise after the public had their say on the council’s long-term plan.

Staff are now recommending a 16.4% increase next year rather than the 18.6% average total rates rise the council consulted on.

Before consultation began, the proposed rates rise was even higher; staff had proposed a rates increase in year one of the 10-year plan of 21.3%.

However, in March, councillors voted to pay transport deficits off over five years instead of three to ease the burden on ratepayers.

Now, after seeking feedback on proposals to fund large-scale environmental work, increased public transport funding, and a change to how the council collects rates to fund its work — on top of its "must-do" work programme — a staff report to be considered at this week’s deliberations provides 43 recommendations for councillors to vote on related to the plan.

"Although overall rates levels/increases were not a specific consultation item, this was outlined in the consultation document and numerous submitters commented on the level of rates increases and the general affordability of rates", the report said.

"The current cost of living and increases in territorial authority rates were a consistent theme within their concerns.

"Feedback also questioned the continued increase in ORC expenditure and requested that council consider reducing that expenditure rather than increasing rates.

"Some went further and suggested ORC needed to reset its focus to reduce its funding needs."

The report went on to say staff had conducted "further reviews" of spending.

Details of the review were not provided in the report, but it noted decreased rates requirements in year one and year three of the plan.

The staff recommended rates increases would be 16.4%, 11.2%, and 9.1% over years one to three of the plan.

This was down from rates increases at the time of consultation of 18.6%, 11.2%, and 9.4%, the report said.

The council received 396 submissions and last week heard from about 50 submitters.

The council asked what level of funding it should make available for large-scale environmental projects and despite most submitters who answered the question calling for $2 million a year, staff have recommended the lowest proposed level of funding for the work, $500,000 a year.

The report noted there was a "strong backing" for flood protection in the council’s infrastructure strategy, despite the financial implications.

Public transport also received significant feedback, it said.