Council proposes 21.4% rates hike in draft annual plan

The Gore District Council is proposing a rates rise of more than 20% as it is weighed down by increasing costs and interest rates.

Councillors considered the draft annual plan report written by interim chief executive Stephen Parry at a full council meeting yesterday.

In the report, Mr Parry outlined eight areas where costs had increased, including insurance, maintenance of council buildings, depreciation and roading.

Initially, after all council budgets were submitted to corporate support general manager Lornae Straith, the rates increase would have been 40% but Ms Straith "worked assiduously to whittle the rates increase down to 31.7%", Mr Parry said.

Further cost cuts were found to end up with the proposed increase of 21.4%.

Speaking to his report, Mr Parry said this budget was the "most challenging" he had faced in his time at the council.

"These rates increases proposed are abnormal and a reflection on, I think, a deeper-lying problem which is the sustainability of funding at local government."

The public would be able to make submissions on the draft annual plan, Mr Parry said.

Gore District Mayor Ben Bell said the council had come through some tough times since the election.

"I think the toughest thing is definitely passing on a rate increase that we all know, as ratepayers, that the community simply can’t afford.

"And that’s really hard as we have to keep this council going," Mr Bell said.

During the discussion councillor Robert McKenzie said he was concerned about the council’s annual interest bill and the amount of debt the council was in.

In 2024-25 the interest bill was projected to be $2.5 million and the council would be in debt by $61m, Cr McKenzie said.

"This is mind-boggling stuff."

"We can’t pass this on to our ratepayers."

He asked whether the council should approach the government.

Cr McKenzie said the government could be advised of the hardship residents will face because of the high rates increase.

"We’ll driving people out of their homes and it must stop."

Cr Keith Hovell said the increase could not be "sugar coated".

"It’s an appalling increase and as we have heard much of it is really non-negotiable and not in our control."

Cr Stewart MacDonell said while the rate increase might be necessary this year, the council needed to look at other ways to lower its debt.

"We may get away without too much blood on the carpet with a 21.4 [% rates rise] this year.

"But, if we go back for a second round we’ll be in trouble."

One possible source of revenue was to sell some of the 95 buildings the council owned in the town, he said.

Submissions on the annual plan will close on May 17.