Proposed rates rise derided as unfair

Beneficiary advocates and groups working with the country's poorest said it was disappointing...
A Southland farmer is warning the regional council the farming community will be keeping a close eye on its actions.

Doug Fraser addressed Environment Southland councillors during a meeting last week in which the council was to adopt the 2021-31 long-term plan.

The farming community advocate said the proposed rates rise illustrated gross inequity.

"The farming community is watching what’s going on here."

While there was to be a 20% increase, to be followed by a 5% increase in the next three years, he explained his general rate had gone up 36.6%, a total increase of $1286 across his farms.

However, he had discovered a mistake in how he was charged, and explained he received a letter on Thursday which said he had been overcharged $397.

He felt it was still unfair.

Environment Southland chief executive Rob Phillips was used as an example; under the proposal, his Invercargill property would have a rates increase of about $80, Mr Fraser said.

"If you need the money, which you’re saying you do, then distribute it more equitably."

He said the council should instead look to borrow money, and that the quality of information it was receiving was "not good".

"It’s time this group of governors took control of this organisation."

Chairman Nicol Horrell said the council owed Mr Fraser thanks for pointing out the error.

However, he noted the council could not debate in that setting.

When it came to adopting the long-term plan, he said the decision was made weeks ago and the council had a job to do.

Strategy and partnerships adviser Rachael Millar said the process had been difficult and there needed to be a heavy emphasis on financial strategy.

Cr Allan Baird started the debate and said both the community and councillors needed quality information for decision-making; he asked if there were any significant changes in the document from consultation to now.

Finance manager Tanea Hawkins said no, and given the delay in the process, the council ended up with more financial data.

There was less than $1million difference in debt.

Cr Baird said the community had made its feelings on the 20% rise known.

"They will hold us to account as councillors next year.

"Our response is that we must also hold staff to account for this large increase being passed to the community."

Cr Jeremy McPhail acknowledged his support for the team at the council.

What he did not support was the funding mechanism of rates.

He believed the council could have helped the community by raising debt levels.

Debt utilisation was something Cr David Stevens agreed with, saying as capital works had intergenerational benefit, the cost should be spread out.

It concerned him councillors were adding to stress Southland communities faced.

To the applause of the public audience, he questioned whether regional councils were "going too hard, too fast".

He suggested they collectively tell government that.

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