A discharged Tauranga councillor says a controversial plan to invest in the city by upping residential rates by 15 per cent will be worth the pain to get "the kind of city we all want".
However, Larry Baldock was left clapping by himself at yesterday's Tauranga City Council meeting in which commissioners formally adopted the 2021 to 2031 Long-term Plan.
Baldock was among about 50 people who packed the public gallery in the council chambers - most of whom were protesters opposing the Long-term Plan.
The adoption of the plan comes after intervention from the Local Government Minister Nanaia Mahuta, who last year discharged city councillors and imposed the commissioners to act in their place.
Mahuta has previously commented the reason for doing so was to ensure the city's Long-term Plan could be completed in a manner that best served the city.
At the meeting, New Zealand Taxpayer's Union executive director Jordan Williams disagreed the plan, specifically its increased rates, was in the city's best interests.
"The claims that Tauranga has poor infrastructure because rates are already low ... is totally incorrect," he told commissioners.
"Tauranga is already [one of] the highest rates in the country but we've been through the Long-term Plans for every council during their Long-term Plan process this year and at the end of this Tauranga will have, by far and away, the highest rates in New Zealand."
Williams said the council's Long-term Plan marketing saying the residential rates would equate to $1 a day was "sneaky".
"That's why hundreds of people are willing to turn out in the pouring rain and protest what is going on today."
Williams was referring to a group of about 150 people taking part in a Tauranga Ratepayers' Alliance protest, chanting and calling out during the beginning of the meeting, expressing their concern about the Long-term Plan.
"Fundamentally, the people protesting downstairs today, we want democracy back," he said.
"If elections are not held next year, this is only just the beginning. This movement will only get bigger."
Williams' remarks were cheered and applauded by most of the public gallery, who followed him outside to continue protesting while the meeting continued.
Commission chairwoman Anne Tolley said the commissioners deliberately delayed adoption of the Long-term Plan by a month to better gauge what people wanted.
"That month of consultation enabled wider discussions. Some were very challenging and that's right, they should be, but they also gave us a greater understanding of the needs of the various Tauranga communities.
"It would be fair to say we came away with the impression this was a city overwhelmed by rapid growth and there was considerable resentment at that growth."
Tolley said commissioners were acutely aware "this is a significant increase".
"We are very concerned for the number of residents who are on fixed income, for who a rates increase will no doubt be difficult."
Tolley said commissioners have asked council staff to explore payment options for such residents. Local Government New Zealand was also working on a rates deferment scheme, she said.
Commissioner Stephen Selwood said had the rates not be increased by as much as proposed, "we would have failed the city and its future".
"Without the waste [kerbside collection], the actual increase to residential rates is closer to 8 per cent. That's really important to note."
Including the waste, Tauranga's average residential rates rise is 15 per cent. The average commercial rates rise is 34 per cent.
Selwood said increasing the rates enabled the council to invest in infrastructure that would increase the city's sustainability, liveability and provide better community amenities.
As commissioners adopted the plan, councillor Baldock stood in the public gallery and applauded the move, saying "well done".
At the same time, a member of the public called out "shame" before he got up and walked out.
After the meeting, Baldock said he was disappointed in the protesters because, in his view, the Long-term Plan was helping "get the job done to turn this into the kind of city we all want".
"This is what I've wanted. For the last two decades ... I waited for a Long-term Plan like this. The rate rise, I'm going to have to pay just like everyone else, and no one wants to pay unnecessarily."
But it would be worth it, he said.
Baldock was among councillors discharged from their duties by Mahuta. So were councillors Dawn Kiddie, Andrew Hollis, and Kelvin Clout who - in their roles as Tauranga Ratepayers' Alliance steering group members - were among protesters. While councillors get to keep their titles, they cannot officially operate as a councillor while commissioners are in the role.
"It's quite a personal cost to me but I'm pleased. It is leading to a better result for the city. I believe in it. That helps to ease the pain," Baldock said.
"I seriously hope the city does a better job in choosing competent, courageous councillors who will continue what the commissioners have begun."
After the meeting, Tolley said she was relieved and confident they've done the right thing.
Tolley said the extra month allowed for more one-on-one consultation sessions, community drop-in sessions and community meetings. The information gleaned from these was essential, she said.
Asked if the protest demonstration gave her cause to reconsider, she said no.
"You can never please everyone but that's democracy," she said.
"It's a healthy sign of a city when people stand up for what they believe in. I wish some of those people came forward to those meetings in some way."
The commissioners would now take "a breather" to go over the Long-term Plan and prioritise key projects in it.