Rotorua rates rise proposed: 9.2 per cent in 2022

The council meeting on Thursday. Photo / Felix Desmarais / LDR

Rotorua will see a nearly 9.2 per cent rates increase in 2022, and an average rates rise of 3.8 per cent over the following nine years, if a draft Long-term Plan gets the council thumbs up.

On Thursday, Rotorua Lakes Council unanimously approved its 2021-2031 Long-term Plan consultation document for public consultation.

The decision was met with applause from some elected members and council staff members in the room, some of whom were wearing T-shirts with the Long-term Plan’s “Mahi” branding, made up specially.

Rotorua mayor Steve Chadwick calls the document “fantastic”, “bold” and “transformational”.

“We have got to lift our community’s hopes, and our community’s desires that we all live in a place that we all love and cherish.

“That’s why we’re making these mokopuna decisions today.”

The consultation document will not be available to the public until March 30, but the council also approved draft supporting documents that reveal the plan’s financial strategy.

Speaking at the meeting, council chief financial officer Thomas Colle says the financial strategy is one of the “underpinning items” of the Long-term Plan, along with the infrastructure strategy.

“Our financial strategy is focusing on investing in our district and promoting housing [and] supporting a safer CBD.”

Colle says there has been a significant increase in residential property valuation and the council proposed to reduce the Uniform Annual General Charge from $475 to $425 to reduce the impact of this.

In the draft financial strategy, it stated the Long-term Plan was built around ensuring the council finished the projects it had started, such as the museum, lakefront redevelopment, the Sir Howard Morrison Performing Arts Centre and “creating conditions for safe, thriving communities and housing development.

The Long-term Plan, named 'Mahi', consultation document will be available for public feedback from March 30. Photo / Felix Desmarais / LDR.

“To enable this, there will need to be an approximately 9.2 per cent rates increase in the first year.”

Rates funding will enable residential and industrial opportunities, as well as attracting “the best talent” to achieve the council’s goals.

It will also enable investment in core essential services such as roading, waste and Three Waters.

Debt would also increase from a 2021 forecast year end position of $261 million to over $440 m in 10 years.

“The increase in debt will be monitored closely and is considered financially viable not only due to the population growth … but also due to the current and expected long-term suppression of financing costs,” the financial strategy document reads.

Fees and charges wil also see an increase under the draft plan, including doubling the cost of some library services.

The cost of dying could also go up, with increases of up to six per cent on burial and cremation services.

Councillor Sandra Kai Fong asked if increases to subdivision building fees would be a deterrent to housing development, Colle says it will not be because the increases - at the most 167 per cent increases - are not a significant increase in cost overall.

The financial strategy draft plan also reveals the council is investigating selling about $11m worth of assets over the 10 years of the plan to reduce pressure on debt.

It says assets will only be sold if the council got a fair price for them, but it didn’t expand on what assets they are.

The draft 10-year capital expenditure programme proposed a spend of nearly $173m on sewerage, $159m on sport, recreation and the environment - including just over $61m for the Westbrook sport and recreation precinct project, nearly $125m for roads and footpaths, just over $80m for arts and culture and $75m for stormwater.

The direction for the draft Long-term Plan was developed in a series of 13 public-excluded workshops.

In the meeting, council corporate planning and governance planner Oonagh Hopkins says the consultation document set out to “present the right debate” with the community.

“Are we focusing on a balance between the community’s needs and aspirations, the services we are looking to deliver and ultimately, the community’s willingness to pay?

“Long-term planning does mean long term. It’s not just what is going to be achieved by the council of the day within the three-year term.

She says the 2021-2031 Long-term Plan, when finalised, will be the document that connects the council’s vision to action.

“It presents the actions that will move the district forward.

“With everything that has been going on around us and the massive changes we are seeing on a daily, monthly and yearly time frame, we also should be cognisant that the kaupapa has not changed. Vision 2030 is still guiding everything we do.”

Audit NZ audit director Leon Pieterse says Audit NZ had issued an unqualified opinion on the Long-term Plan consultation document that it was “fit for purpose” for consultation purposes.

“If we had any concerns we would have issued a qualified opinion,” he says.

Councillor Merepeka Raukawa-Tait says the consultation document shows the council has a vision for Rotorua and is “solutions-focused” and had “the courage to do what is required”.

“We cannot shrink ourselves back.”

Deputy mayor Dave Donaldson says the draft plan is “visionary” and “comprehensive”.

Rotorua mayor Steve Chadwick. Photo / File / Andrew Warner / Rotorua Daily Post

Mayor Steve Chadwick says the draft plan is “a long time coming”.

“We’ve seen and felt the concerns in our community. We’ve heard our community.

She says it's a “transformational approach”.

“This is fantastic and it’s very bold and it’s transformational.

“It is huge. It’s been a culmination of a lot of work.

“Let’s listen to our community. Let’s be challenged, it is challenging for many in our community, what we’re proposing today, but let’s listen to them now.

“Now it’s our time to listen, not to lead.”

Earlier in the week, Local Democracy Reporting asked the council why the consultation document would not be released to the public following approval at Thursday’s meeting.

A council spokeswoman said there is a process the council needs to go through with auditors to have the document ready for the public.

The council’s Long-term Plan consultation document will be released on March 30 and public feedback on it will be accepted until April 30 at 4pm.

The public can provide feedback through the council’s online Let’s Talk platform, in writing with a feedback form and at face-to-face events.

Comments on the council’s Facebook page will be considered but are not considered formal feedback on the draft plan.

After public consultation, council officers will compile feedback and present a final draft Long-term Plan for the council to consider for adoption.

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