Matthew Martin is a senior reporter at the Rotorua Daily Post

Preference for low rates increase

District councillors have sent early signals to staff and ratepayers saying they want another year of low rates increases - with some support around the council table for no rates increase at all.

Rotorua district councillors went into three days of Annual Plan budget meetings yesterday with councillors stating early on they were looking at an overall rates increase of less then 1 per cent, in line with a CPI (Consumer Price Index) increase last year of 0.9 per cent.

Council chief executive Peter Guerin said the goal of a low rates increase was ideal.

Mr Guerin said his starting point was an increase of no more than 2 per cent, as long as debt levels stayed in line with levels set in last year's Long Term Plan.

Mayor Kevin Winters supported a 0.9 per cent increase saying councillors should keep the figure in the back of their minds during the draft Annual Plan process. "If we can leave it [money] in their [ratepayers] pockets then it has to be good for our local economy, leaving people with more disposable income," Mr Guerin said.

Councillors have been discussing the coming financial year's budgets during an extraordinary meeting of the council's corporate and customer services committee.

Debate soon moved on to individual cost centres with councillors discussing whether ratepayers should continue funding the City Safe Guardians.

Staff told councillors the budget for this year's guardians was $164,000, much less than the $200,000 budgeted for in the draft Annual Plan.

Councillor Mike McVicker said the council should not fund the guardians, or should at least ask retailers to part fund the initiative.

"After all, the retailers asked us for it and we delivered. Maybe we should be asking them to cover it," he said.

Councillor Karen Hunt had an opposing view.

"Let's not do what central government does and pull funding when something starts working. Let's back this and give them [the guardians] some certainty," she said.

Councillor Charles Sturt said he would not like to go back to the bad old days of fights in the City Focus.

"Now the community relies on them to a certain degree," he said.

Committee chairwoman Janet Wepa said she did not think the service was a council responsibility but did not want to dismiss the guardians without further public consultation. "The retailers wanted it but they have not paid a dollar for it and that bothers me," she said.

In the end councillors voted unanimously to keep funding for the guardians in the draft plan, leaving the community to decide on their future during the submission process.

However, for the fifth time in five years, fees and charges for animal control services and environmental health could go up by an average of 3 per cent if councillors agree to recommendations from council staff.

The council's corporate and customer services group manager Jean-Paul Gaston said the council's fees policy was to adjust fees and charges on an ongoing basis to reflect inflationary changes and shift an increasing proportion of fees and charges to user-pays "and in doing so reduce the proportion paid by other ratepayers through general rates".

Meetings continue until tomorrow and are open to the public.

The draft Annual Plan for the 2013/14 financial year will be open for public submissions in the coming weeks.

- Rotorua Daily Post

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