A vision to make Tauranga the most community-minded city in New Zealand could see poorer people paying less rates.
The challenge of making sure the city was "inclusive, vibrant and happy" was the topic of a special council workshop held this week.
It coincided with another workshop on the same day that raised the prospect of the fixed component of rates bills being linked to property values. This workshop kicked off a process that aimed to make Tauranga "an internationally competitive city".
Council policy planner Jane Barnett set out the steps needed to achieve the goal of Tauranga becoming "the most community minded city in New Zealand".
She said the city faced unprecedented population growth. "Tauranga is often viewed as an affluent city but in reality it has seven suburbs that are identified in the New Zealand Social Deprivation Index as being nine or 10 on the deprivation scale - 10 being the most deprived."
Nearly 14,000 of Tauranga's population of 128,200 people lived in these areas, she said.
Community and culture committee chairman Terry Molloy said the goal was ambitious. "We have been a very conservative city and we need to shift. It is a laudable target and we should be trying to get there."
The other workshop began by setting out the key principles underlying the proposed financial strategy, including fairness and equity, intergenerational equity, and efficiency and accountability. It then drilled down to 43 questions and options to focus the minds of councillors and staff.
Questions included who paid, who benefited, was it affordable and was it fair. One option suggested differentiating between groups of ratepayers.
Finance and monitoring committee chairwoman Gail McIntosh said there may be room to move on the component of rates called the uniform annual general charge - a fixed charge which this year comprised 29 per cent of the total rate take.
On the assumption that the less well off lived in lower valued properties, the council could look at reducing the percentage paid by people on lower valued properties while keeping it at the maximum 30 per cent for everyone else.
"Is it fair that everyone paid 30 per cent?" she asked.
The timetable called for the strategy to be completed in time for it to be considered for the first draft of the council's 2018-28 long-term plan due out in October. "We are focusing our minds on the big questions," Cr McIntosh said.
Mayor Greg Brownless said there were pros and cons of adjusting the uniform annual general charge so that it was a graduated scale according to property values.
"There is the problem that not everyone on higher valued properties had higher incomes. Sometimes it was an accident of history," he said referring to elderly people of limited means who still lived in their original family home.
Mr Brownless said rates were a crude funding mechanism and all they could do was to tweak things a bit. The council was struggling with growth and needed to consider ways to increase income and be more efficient.
Merivale Community Centre interim manager Sophie Rapson said making Tauranga the country's most community-minded city was a worthy aim. ''We have got to invest in people's happiness.''
She was less sure about the impact of reducing rates for the poorer sector of the community. Many of them lived in rental housing and she suspected that lowering the rates for landlords would not translate into rent reductions.
''I'm not sure how it will materially affect renters on low incomes.''
Ms Rapson said it would help homeowners who were struggling with living costs.
Tauranga suburbs ranked as nine or 10 on NZ Social Deprivation Index 2013
Most deprived areas (10): Yatton Park (Merivale), Tauranga Hospital, Matapihi.
Next most deprived (9): Greerton, Gate Pa, Sulphur Point, Kairua (near Welcome Bay).
Percentage of city population living in these areas: 10.9 per cent
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