Rural rates rise agony set to follow cuts

By Lawrence Gullery

Government funding cuts to rural roads could mean rate increases adding more pain for farmers already hit by the near-drought conditions blanketing Hawke's Bay.

Hastings District Council's rural committee met yesterday to review the New Zealand Transport Agency's (NZTA) reduced funding for rural roads over the next three years.

The committee agreed it would have to allocate additional money for safety work on rural roads to fill the void left by a reduced funding package from the NZTA. It would have no money, however, to put into a reserve used for annual flood repair work on roads and bridges.

The committee wanted the overall rate increase for rural people to stay below 3 per cent when the council meets tomorrow, to start working through the 2013/14 annual plan.

Committee member Phil Alexander, Puketapu, said he preferred the rate stay below 2.5 per cent to ease the burden on the farming community facing dry conditions, but the 3 per cent figure was voted as the preferred option.

The NZTA claimed it had increased its funding for the Hastings district but the council's figures showed it was given about $3 million less than it had budgeted for in its three-year road renewal and maintenance programme.

The council would continue to ask to meet the board of the NZTA to point out the implications of the funding shortfall, asset management group manager David Fraser said.

"NZTA says it has increased funding but it only looks at maintenance and not maintenance and renewal, like we do."

Committee member Sue Maxwell, Tutira, said she wanted to write a letter to Hawke's Bay Today encouraging people to complain about the perceived poor condition of State Highway 2 through the region.

The committee wanted to know how the NZTA and the council were informing the public of the reduced funding for rural roads. Council chief executive Ross McLeod suggested a diplomatic approach.

"We have been working with NZTA to confirm our view of the funding situation, which is different to their view. It is something we are trying to change in the medium term, so when the next funding round comes, for the 2015-18 period, we can reinstate our funding level back to where we think it should be," Mr Fraser said.

- Hawkes Bay Today

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