Extra cost for consent holders?

Otago Regional Council consent holders may soon face extra charges after a heated debate by councillors over the ‘‘contentious'' issue of whether public or private citizens benefited most from its monitoring and audit work.

Those works and other inspections are funded 100% by the ratepayer and in 2008-09 are estimated to cost the council more than $1 million.

A report to the finance and corporate committee yesterday recommended the council recover 100% of those costs from consent holders and that the proposal be included in the Long Term Council Community Plan 2006-16 and go out for public consultation in the upcoming annual plan process.

It also recommended a schedule of fees for performance monitoring and auditing of dairy effluent discharges be included as well.

However, after debating the issue, the committee voted to develop a revenue policy and schedule of fees on the basis only 50% of costs from consent holders would be recovered. The other 50% would be covered by the ratepayers.

It took a show of hands, with five councillors voting for and four against, to carry the recommendation that dairy effluent discharge consents be charged 50% of the cost of performance monitoring and auditing.

Deputy chairman Cr Stephen Woodhead, who moved the amendments to charge 50% instead of 100%, said while he accepted there was some private benefit to consent holders from the monitoring work, he did not see why a consent holder meeting all its conditions should face the full cost of being audited.

He believed charging dairy farmers for the council's annual visit was ‘‘jumping the gun'' as it was one of many permitted activities and suggested the recommendation be deleted.

Cr David Shepherd said he was uncomfortable with the original recommendations as it undervalued the public benefit a lot of consent holders distributed to the community like employment

Chairman Stephen Cairns said as the ORC was the only regiona council in the country which stil put the financial burden of monitoring and auditing on ratepayers, it was in a ‘‘time warp''.

He was concerned Cr Woodhead's amendment was ‘‘horse trading principals, and we don't horse trade on principals''

‘‘The status quo, the historica perspective must cease. The world has moved on and the public private benefit, to me, is patently obvious.''

Cr Michael Deaker said it was nonsensical the ORC was the only regional counci in the country not to recover those charges.

Cr Doug Brown said he believed consents brought a huge private and public benefit to Otago but did not think dairy discharges should be included.

‘‘It must be split between between private and public. We have to look at the balance between.''

Cr Gretchen Robertson said the recommendations did not just affect water users but those with air, water, land or coasta consents. She also believed including dairy discharges was ‘‘jumping the gun''.

Cr Bryan Scott said there was clearly a private benefit but he could not support the dairy discharge being included.

Cr Louise Croot reminded councillors the recommendations would go out for public consultation and the committee was not making the fina decision.

Cr Gerry Eckhoff warned the issue could increase the urban rural divide and said he would reluctantly support Cr Woodhead's 50% amendment although would rather it be reduced to 25%.

By the end of the debate, Cr Eckhoff had decided he would not support any of the recommendations and voted against them all.

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