Formerly New Zealand's High Commissioner to the Cook Islands and MP for the Northland Electorate of New Zealand.
JOHN CARTER - MAYOR OF THE FAR NORTH DISTRICT OF NEW ZEALAND
Moving forward together
Thursday 26 March 2015
What can we afford?
The biggest single challenge we face as a district is paying for essential public services. We have a small rating base, but have to maintain one of New Zealand's longest roading networks, as well as 16 sewerage schemes and eight water supplies. We need a growing economy if these services are to be affordable. This means salaries, wages, business incomes and property values increasing faster than rate increases. This did not happen from 2006 to 2013. Median household incomes increased by only two percent during this period and property values fell by an average of 16%. Yet, rates increased by 8% a year. The community cannot afford a continuation of large annual rate increases based on these figures. It simply isn't sustainable. We also can't afford to keep deferring essential maintenance on core infrastructure, such as roads, water and sewerage. We need to maintain these utilities so they meet the needs of current and future generations. The dilemma we face then is how do we make the necessary investments in our infrastructure, but in a way that is affordable for households? We can stage this recovery over a number of years to spread costs, which we are doing. We can also review the rating system to ensure this allocates operating costs to ratepayers fairly and equitably, which we propose to do in 2015/16. But we still face issues of affordability around our infrastructure in the meantime. The Proposed Long Term Plan 2015-25 Consultation Document the Council is inviting submissions on includes options for addressing years of underinvestment in water and/or sewerage schemes at Te Kao, Kaitaia, Kerikeri, Paihia, Rawene-Omanaia and Opononi-Omapere. Proceeding with Council's preferred options will result in significant to substantial rate increases for properties connected to these schemes. We urge property-owners to find out about these proposals and tell us what level of service they are prepared to pay for before submissions close on 23 April. For example, we could repair leaking pipes in Kaitaia's sewerage network so the network could cope with a large, one-in-five year storm, but this would cost nearly $26 million. Alternatively, we could spend $13.7 million fixing the system so it coped with a smaller one-in-one year storm. This is the Council's preferred option, but some properties connected to the system may want to pay more for a higher level of service. We urge people in Kaitaia and other areas to tell us what is affordable for them so we can consider this feedback when we finalise our Long Term Plan and also include it in the rating review next year. We are here to serve the community and be guided by its wishes in our decision-making. Now is the time to tell us what you think.