'Nice to have' items off agenda as rate rise cut

The "nice to have" items were yesterday being cut from the Central Otago District Council's budget: applications for funding were declined and council staff were told to operate on less money in a bid to further reduce costs facing Central Otago ratepayers.

That effort, also assisted by final funding confirmation from the New Zealand Transport Agency, lowered an average rates increase of 7% back to a more manageable 5.9%.

The council met yesterday, following meetings of the district's four community boards, to hear and discuss some of the 262 submissions it received since its long-term plan went out for public consultation.

Many submissions said the potential rates rise of 7% was too high and some suggested the council should focus on the "need to haves" rather than on the "nice to have" items.

Speaking at the meeting, Graham Henderson, a ratepayer in Alexandra and Omakau, went as far as to say a 7% rise would effectively lower the standard of living for people.

Mayor Tony Lepper said he "can't live with rates rises as high as they are".

Applications for funding from various groups were declined in order to save money - the Alexandra Community House Trust had asked for funding to cover costs such as rates, the Central Otago District Arts Trust (Codat) had asked for an additional $5000 and the Mates Men's Network, aimed at preventing male suicide, asked for a grant of between $1000 and $5000 to set up a group in Central Otago.

The $10,000 allocated for developing a wilding pine strategy stays in the budget.

The council's general budget was decreased.

Councillors told council staff that they would need to make cuts across the board and management would need to find savings of $70,000.

The council had recognised it was difficult for people on fixed incomes, and everyone else in this environment, "and charged management with finding $70,000 worth of savings", council corporate services manager Susan Finlay said.

"Until I find a way of reducing costs without changing the level of service, then I don't know what to do ... unless people tell us to reduce the level of service," deputy mayor Neil Gillespie said.

Mrs Finlay said they were struggling to maintain their level of service on current budgets.

Community boards had this week decided to defer the Omakau and Naseby water upgrades, in order to hold off on costs.

The projects had been deferred until year three of the long-term plan, which allowed time for targeted consultation of the Omakau and Naseby communities, Mrs Finlay said.

She said the long-term plan would be reworded and the numbers reworked before the council formally adopted the plan on July 2.

That meant volumetric charging for water would formally begin on July 2 as well, though ratepayers would only receive bills three times a year and for different wards it would be at different times of the year.

There were many submissions on the issue of volumetric charging for water but "they were pretty even, which shows that you're damned if you do, damned if you don't", Mr Gillespie said.

There was talk around the council table of how costly it was to conform to standards set by central government and councillors suggested getting local MP Jacqui Dean in to talk to them.

"We need to get our local MP in here and call her to task ...

not only about cuts to roading but [also] mixed messages about water and wastewater," councillor Martin McPherson said.

- sarah.marquet@odt.co.nz


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