Four per cent targeted rates rise adopted

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Accusations of “pork-barrelling” and “expansionism” formed the backdrop of the adoption of a four per cent targeted rates rise and annual plan for Rotorua.

However, others said the plan was “astonishing” and “well-balanced”.

The Rotorua Lakes Council voted six-two to adopt the 2020/2021 annual plan at an at times fiery meeting on Thursday, with councillors Reynold Macpherson and Raj Kumar recording their votes against the motion.

It was the final sign-off for the plan, which was open for public consultation from May 21 to June 17.

Council chief financial officer Thomas Colle presented the annual plan for adoption, saying it was the end of an “eight-month journey”.

“We talked about the strategies around helping Rotorua recover and in particular, around building back Rotorua better.”

He noted the targeted rates rise had dropped from a proposed 4.7 per cent to 4 per cent.

“Underpinning the plan, as well, is the prudent use of debt, ensuring that we had a significant capital works programme to not only look after the assets … but also to be able to leverage those for a) creating local employment, but also ensuring that projects were delivering on the economic future of Rotorua."

The report on the annual plan for the meeting stated a forecast reduction in fees and charges would further increase debt by an estimated $4.5m.

Councillor Peter Bentley said he was “not at all happy” about the projected accumulation of debt as forecast by the annual plan.

“If you’ve got to borrow money to keep yourself in business, it’s a pretty dire thing to be admitting to.

“We should be discussing cutting costs rather than increasing our project expenditure.”

Last week, former mayor Grahame Hall had spoken out against many aspects of the annual plan, including the use of debt.

During Thursday’s meeting, deputy mayor Dave Donaldson said he was “delighted” to support the annual plan, calling it “well-balanced”.

“It's incredibly important that we use intergenerational funding so that although future generations will be paying it back they’ll also be reaping the rewards.”

Councillors Sandra Kai Fong, Fisher Wang and Mercia Yates also expressed general support of the plan.

Councillor Tania Tapsell was not in attendance but had her apologies were accepted.

Councillor Reynold Macpherson invoked the pepeha - proverb - he aha te mea nui o te ao? He tāngata, he tāngata, he tāngata.

“It’s deeply sad to me that a stand out feature of the planning process has been the unwillingness of [the] council to give priority to the affordability of any rates rise to ratepayers - he tangata.

He labelled targeted rates rises and projected increased debt in the annual plan as “the council’s latest set of demands” and said it was to support “expansionism”.

“He tangata can no longer afford this council’s dreams.”

Merepeka Raukawa-Tait called for a point of order as Macpherson began discussing the views presented by people on social media, particularly those on Rotorua Residents and Ratepayers Facebook page.

Donaldson joined her.

“Councillor Macpherson is straying into his role as a submitter [on the annual plan] and he should really have declared his predetermined bias,” he said.

“He should not even be sitting at the table.

“If Councillor Macpherson insists, I’m happy to hear his views, but I don’t need the views of social media.”

Chairing the meeting, mayor Steve Chadwick said social media was not what guided politicians.

Macpherson then used the phrases “cargo cult” and “pork-barrelling” leading to further points of order.

Chadwick said he was using “ridiculously broad statements that have no bearing at all on the annual plan”.

Chadwick said Macpherson’s five minute speaking time was up, which Macpherson protested.

Councillor Maxwell said the annual plan was one of the “most unusual” he’d ever seen in his time as a councillor and achieving a general rates freeze “wasn’t easy”.

However, he wasn’t “feeling comfortable” about Macpherson’s participation as he had been a submitter on the annual plan.

“What Mr Macpherson has been doing should not reflect on Rotorua Lakes Council’s professionalism, integrity or reputation.”

Councillor Peter Bentley and Macpherson both called for points of order, but Chadwick said Maxwell was “technically correct”.

“We had independent legal advice in that you were absolutely conflicted. You refused to accept that advice.”

Councillor Merepeka Raukawa-Tait said it was a “good annual plan”.

“This is a test of courageous leadership.

“We have to believe that within a few years time, we will have bounced back, not only better but also different … and that requires courageous leadership.

She said the arguments against the adoption of the annual plan were “not helpful” and came from “someone who doesn’t know what [the] council’s job is”.

Discussing the setting of rates, Raukawa-Tait said there would always be “winners and losers”.

Wrapping up discussion on the annual plan, Chadwick said she thought it was “fair that we allowed councillors who had a clear conflict to make their statement today too, rather than feel that [they] were shut down”.

She said the annual plan was “the most astonishing” she’d seen in her time on the council.

“In these unprecedented times, we were planning into a very uncertain future.

“We had to carry the community with us and we had to lead with confidence, and we had to keep their confidence.

“Our community looks to us not to be conflicted and arguing over petty things.”

She said the annual plan was “very progressive”.

“There are not many other councils that have got an annual plan that is as innovative, as caring of our community and certainly done in partnership.

“Those that vote for this annual plan today show that they back our community.”

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