A lone councillor has spoken out in opposition to the Western Bay of Plenty District Council's decision to approve a 1.98 per cent rates rise.
The vote, on Tuesday, was carried 11-1, with councillor Christina Humphreys opposing the move.
Humphreys is the former chairwoman of Katikati and Waihi Beach Ratepayers' Association and committee member of the Western Ward Residents and Ratepayers Association. She had hoped for a zero rate change to "give the public some respite on their fixed costs in these difficult times".
"Many are losing their jobs and businesses are closing which, in my opinion, has not finished yet. The flow-on will be for some years to come..."
Humphreys said she was elected because of her stance on lowering rates and residents, like her, who owned land or a farm already paid a lot in compliance costs and increased rates was a double blow.
"Why should, consistently each year, they put the rates up? I just think it's wrong, especially in times like this. We are still having the highest rates in the country."
However, Mayor Garry Webber said the increase included valuations that each council was legally obliged to do every three years. It also reflected what had been a prosperous time for kiwifruit.
"We are quite unique in that we have 11,000 residential ratepayers and 11,000 rural of horticultural ratepayers. So with the good fortune of the kiwifruit industry, the valuations of kiwifruit properties have gone up significantly over the last three years. Whereas the residential valuations have not gone up as much.
"Because of that, nearly half of our residential ratepayers will see a decrease in their rates and a lot of the kiwifruit properties with higher valuations will see an increase."
Webber said the rates debate was always fraught with difficulty and referred to two community boards asking for a rates freeze while in the same submission asking for more cycleways.
"We have worked really hard to balance the requests we have from people and managing our business role while also employing the valuations that we have to do legally."
Key projects included in Western Bay's proposed 2020-21 Annual Plan include $1.03m for the continuation with the seal extension programme across the district, $1.5m for wastewater treatment plant improvements, $900,000 support for community groups including Tourism Bay of Plenty, Katch Katikati, and Te Puke Economic Development Group, and $200,000 for Waihi Beach's Island View Reserve playground and development.
The council also voted for a Covid-19 response in its Economic Recovery Plan swiftly rebuild the Western Bay economy through immediate relief and medium to long term support.
This included a $300,000 Community Resilience Fund for the distribution of one-off grants to community groups/organisations severely affected by Covid-19, waiving annual rent charges for council-owned reserves and buildings for 12 months for sports clubs and community organisations and targeted rates relief initiatives.
The 2020-2021 Annual Plan is expected to be formally adopted on June 25.
Last September, the Taxpayers' Union 2017-18 Ratepayers' Report revealed the Western Bay's average residential rates bill was $3192, the second-highest in the country. Auckland City had the highest at $3387.
Auckland City replaced Western Bay as having the highest rates last year due to new charges such as its interim transport levy. However, Auckland - unlike the Western Bay - was a unitary council, meaning it also funds services usually handled by a regional council.