Rates rise on the cards - debt used for recovery

The Rotorua Lakes Council has released its Annual Plan 2020/21 for public consultation.

Rotorua residents can expect an average rates rise of 4.7 per cent in the coming year - a lot less than the 8.2 per cent rise proposed before the COVID-19 crisis hit home.

Councillors voted unanimously to go ahead with public consultation for the district's Annual Plan 2020/21 at a meeting of the Rotorua Lakes Council yesterday.

Residents will also get the chance to have their say about the plan when public consultation opens tomorrow and runs until June 17. 

Mayor Steve Chadwick says the proposed annual plan recognises the community’s need for ongoing support as a result of COVID-19 and "provides flexibility to address new challenges and opportunities that may emerge as the district works towards recovery".

However, ageing wastewater and water supply systems infrastructure and the urgent need for more capacity have forced the council to introduce a targetted rate on all properties connected to those systems meaning almost all of Rotorua will have to foot the bill for ongoing maintenance and upgrades.

This would mean an average increase of $2.70 per week for a $500,000 residential property, about $140 a year.

The proposed plan includes:

· 0% general rates rise to "help cushion the impact of COVID-19"

· Average overall 4.7% rates rise made up solely of targeted rates due to increased costs for wastewater, water supply and waste management

· $25 reduction in fixed charges to more fairly distribute targeted rates

· A $29 million fund to stimulate and support economic recovery

· A $1 million fund to support community projects/initiatives

“We recognise that people are still hurting and I believe we have a proposed plan that recognises that, with a focus on cushioning the impact while also positioning our district for recovery through the Build Back Better strategy we have adopted,” Steve says.

“As part of that work, sector groups will be coming through with strategies and opportunities that we will need to have the flexibility to contribute to, as appropriate, and we have allowed for that in the proposed annual plan.

“We also recognise the need for council to also invest in economic stimulus through projects already underway and potential future opportunities."

Steve says the council organisation has undertaken a thorough review and reduced costs where possible but being "mindful of the need to maintain capacity and capability to deliver on the outcomes of the annual plan".

Examples of savings made were given to councillors by the council's Chief Financial Officer Thomas Colle.

Thomas says a salary freeze for council staff has been put in place, no new staff will be hired, advertising budgets have been cut, parks and reserves budget has been cut and debt would be used to cover one-off operational costs.

He says the council expects to incur an additional $10 million worth of debt due to rates postponements and $9 million for a local economic stimulus package ($29 million over two years).

Thomas said that in March the council was considering a rates increase of 8.18 per cent, but this was shelved due to the COVID-19 pandemic.

The council is using a variety of methods for public consultation that council staff say will allow as many people to engage with the process as possible.

Feedback options:

Option 1: Go online to rotorualakescouncil.nz/Letstalk. This is the council’s feedback portal where you will find an online feedback form and places to leave comments.

Option 2: Send written feedback to the council, Private Bag 3029, Rotorua, by June 17.

Option 3: Post comments and suggestions on the council’s Facebook page. These will be considered, discussed and form part of decision-making. However, receipt of feedback provided via social media won't be acknowledged.

Option 4: Join elected members and staff in remote café-style discussions. Following a short presentation to everyone via a zoom meeting, there will be opportunities for participants to ask questions and provide feedback. These conversations will enable elected members and staff to understand your points of view. 

Option 5: Call the council’s 0800 number – 0800 020 001 – and give your feedback over the phone.

Annual Plan timetable

· Information/consultation document publicly available – May 21 

· Public feedback opens – May 21

· Feedback closes – June 17

· Final Annual Plan recommendations made/changes made – June 25

· Adoption of Annual Plan – July 9 

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