Rates hike in Selwyn residents' hands

HAVE YOUR SAY - What services and projects should be cut to reduce rates? Leeston’s new community...
HAVE YOUR SAY - What services and projects should be cut to reduce rates? Leeston’s new community centre (above), community services, or something else? Send your views in 200 words or less to daniel.alvey@starmedia.kiwi
Selwyn residents will be asked what should be cut in an effort to reduce rates in the district over the next 10 years.

The proposed rates rise on average is 15.6 per cent for this year and then three double-digit increases over the next three years with the average rates bill to get past $7000 by 2034.

The 2024-34 Long Term Plan is now out for public consultation till May 2, and will set the direction council takes for the next 10 years.

The numbers have been trimmed slightly since a 16 per cent rise was initially proposed and there is still room for movement before the final LTP is signed off on June 30.

Last year Selwyn had one of the lowest rates rises in Canterbury with 5.9 per cent. 

This year it has one of the highest.

Christchurch City Council was able to cut rates from 15.84 per cent to 13.24 per cent before it went out for consultation. Waimakariri District Council has proposed a 8.94 per cent rates rise, Ashburton District Council 9.9 per cent rise and Hurunui District Council a 12.37 per cent rise.

Selwyn Mayor Sam Broughton said previous low rates rises have led to this year’s large increase.

“We liked 6 (per cent) because it was an easier number to sell to the community . . . because if that number had been 10 or 11 (per cent) instead of 6 (per cent) next year’s number would be 10 (per cent), not 15 (per cent).

“So the decisions we make this year affect what rates number we will have next year and the year after,” Broughton said.

Many councils nationally are in a similar position with planned rates increases ranging from as low as 6 per cent to as high as 25 per cent, with Selwyn near the middle of the road.

The average proposed increase across all councils in New Zealand is 15.3 per cent.

The council also has $188 million of carry-forward projects in its capital expenditure budget, which currently stands at $1.5 billion over the next 10 years.

The carry-forward is largely due to delays from the pandemic and major changes in the organisational structure.

The council is spending so much on capital projects that on current projections it will breach its 220 per cent debt ceiling in the 2027/28 financial year.

Council chief executive Sharon Mason said while some projects will have to be shifted, delaying too many will move the problem down the road.

“What we are seeing for this LTP is a consequence of many years’ worth of rates perhaps not being set at an appropriate level. 

“What we are seeing is some inflationary pressure here included.

“We are also a significant growth council and we have to balance enabling the growth . . .  (or) all we’ll end up doing is deferring the problem which will end up getting bigger in outgoing years.”

Deputy Mayor Malcolm Lyall said the rates rise was a consequence of a growing district.

“I’m not particularly happy having to go out at 15.6 per cent but it is reality when you look at Selwyn and you look at our growth.

“We have perhaps been a little bit kind in how we’ve set our rates in the last few years and that is coming home to roost,” Lyall said.

Mason said before June, council staff will be going through the LTP to see where savings can be made.

Springs Ward councillor Grant Miller was critical of staff not doing enough to present cost-cutting measures before the public consultation phase.

“I don’t think we have done enough to trim costs. I regard it as management’s role to bring us cost-cutting options for us to decide what could and shouldn’t go into the LTP, not wait till the submission process.”

Miller said it should not be up to the public to suggest where cost savings should be made. He was not present for the vote to send the LTP out for consultation due to a personal matter but said if he was he would not have voted for it.

While Miller was in favour of taking projects off the list and cutting funds – like the discretionary funds – which are given out to help individuals and groups attend things like sporting tournaments, other councillors were not.

Rolleston Ward councillor Sophie McInnes said it would be detrimental to cut services people rely on for the sake of cutting rates.

“When you get to that stage the community services are what keep your family trucking along.”

Broughton said inflationary pressures and rising costs have driven up prices, even without council building projects.

“We are balancing this with the cost of rates and the affordability for households. As we have seen with councils around the country, just providing what we did last year is costing more,” Broughton said.

Since the last LTP in 2021, roading and water projects are 27 per cent more expensive to build, bridges are 38 per cent more expensive to build, and sewage systems are 30 per cent more expensive.

As part of its consultation, the council will be seeking feedback on its projects. Residents are being asked whether the council should build more park-and-ride facilities in Rolleston and Lincoln, build a new community facility and library in Leeston, upgrade Leeston Park and build an indoor sports facility in Darfield.

Other planned projects in the LTP include $46 million to upgrade the Lincoln Town Centre, a project first adopted in 2016. It will also conduct feasibility studies on new community facilities in Prebbleton and south-west Rolleston.

The council also plans to get developers to contribute to new community facility builds.

Revenue from this community infrastructure development contribution would go towards anything from public toilets to community centres.

Residents can have their say on the draft LTP at selwyn.govt.nz/ltp until May 2.