West Coasters facing 'sizable' rate increases

For the Grey District Council, there is a lot of catch-up work and some hard decisions. Photo:...
For the Grey District Council, there is a lot of catch-up work and some hard decisions. Photo: Getty Images
The first draft rate increases have been released, with Buller forecasting 6.5% and Grey 9.9%.

Tania Gibson. Photo: supplied
Tania Gibson. Photo: supplied
Westland - which has already cautioned ratepayers to brace for an increase - and the West Coast Regional Council are still finalising their increases.

"We are not alone in facing sizable rate increases," Buller Deputy Mayor Sharon Roche said this morning.

For the Grey District Council, there is a lot of catch-up work and some hard decisions.

Mayor Tania Gibson said the previous council had "meant well" but there was no reserves money left in the kitty.

"We can't keep using the credit card to buy groceries," Mrs Gibson said.

The council will consult the public on a raft of cutbacks - including questions over the future of the Runanga swimming pool and the Runanga Service Centre, and whether to build a new library in Greymouth.

Council staff were today dropping off leaflets in Runanga, as that town will potentially be more heavily affected than Greymouth.

Mrs Gibson said work had been put off, and they could delay no longer.

Some stormwater pipes were over 100 years old; one recently collapsed at Dobson, causing a sinkhole.

The catch-up work could cost $13.6 million. Of the 213 bridges in Grey district, 19 had restrictions on them and as many as 24 needed replacing.

About 3% of the proposed rate rise was from last year, put off due to Covid-19.

Over the next 10 years, the council needed to reduce debt, improve infrastructure and increase reserves, Mrs Gibson said.

"There is no money for pensioner housing aside," she said, as one example.

Sharon Roche. Photo: Bullerdc.govt.nz
Sharon Roche. Photo: Bullerdc.govt.nz

The public will now get a say on some key decisions:

• Whether to extend kerbside rubbish collection to other areas, except for Te Kinga and Moana, where there are more holiday homes.

• Whether to build a new library in about seven years' time on a yet to be determined freehold site, possibly costing $14m. The current library building is quake prone and not fit for purpose.

•The future of the Spring Creek Pool at Runanga, which costs $60,000 a year to run and brings in $3000 in revenue. Possibly a community group could run it.

•The future of the Runanga Service Centre, which has deteriorated and sees few customers.

Mrs Gibson said for someone in Cobden with a land value of $21,000, the rate rise would equate to an extra $3.11 a week.

Community meetings were planned as well as the regular submissions process -- she said the council would post details in the newspaper and on social media.

The proposed rate rises are part of West Coast councils' long-term plans for the next decade. Buller and Grey councillors will initially discuss them at meetings next Wednesday.

Buller council said because of legislation changes, coupled with pressure of ageing infrastructure, there were critical challenges to face.

Some projects in the draft plan include implementing a climate change and resilience strategy, an overhaul of the council's information management system, and a new approach to managing the Westport Port and the Kawatiri dredge.

The following year, the Buller rate rise is forecast at 6.4%, followed by 5.3% and in 2024-25, 5.1%

Deputy Mayor Roche said councils throughout New Zealand were facing similar issues.

"It's a tough conversation to have. We need to lay the groundwork for resilience in the future, we have some future challenges, but we have identified them and are proposing ways to address them."

Vin Smith. Photo: ODT files
Vin Smith. Photo: ODT files

In Buller, public consultation ends on May 18.

West Coast Regional Council chief executive Vin Smith said he was expecting "robust discussions' over rate increases as councillors were confronted with the costs facing the council in the coming year.

It would be "inappropriate" to hint at the potential increase before the council saw figures at a closed workshop next week, Mr Smith said.

"But when you look at some of the increases other regional councils are proposing -- 73% for Otago and 20% or more for Otago and Southland, you can see the numbers are high all over the country."

The increases reflected the workload that the Government was now asking local government to do, giving effect to its environmental policies.

"The West Coast Regional Council faces significant challenges in this regard," Mr Smith said.

Chairman Allan Birchfield was also unwilling to comment on the likely size of the regional rate increase until councillors had debated it.

The costs would be due to the need to take on more highly skilled staff, Cr Birchfield said.

- By Laura Mills and Lois Williams

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