Whangārei District Council has voted for a 6.5 per cent rates rise next financial year.
By Susan Botting
Whangārei residential rates are set to rise by 6.5 per cent next financial year.
This increase - which equates to an average rise of $141.50 a year, or $2.72 a week - kicks off a decade of proposed annual 4.5 rates rises.
The increases were outlined in Whangārei District Council (WDC)'s proposed Long Term Plan (LTP) 2021-2031 which was discussed at Thursdays final full council meeting for the year.
They compare with current 2020/2021 rates which are 2.2 per cent above the preceding 12 months. (WDC initially proposed a 5.2 per cent increase for 2020/2021 but cut that back to 2.2 per cent in the face of Covid-19.)
Sheryl Mai, Whangārei Mayor, said the council had cut back its rates rise for the current year to take pressure off families and businesses following Covid-19 lockdown.
Whangārei's sustained growth through the pandemic had put pressure on WDC's ability to pay for what the growing district needed, she said.
"Whangārei's growth has been sustained throughout Covid-19 and we are not far off hitting a population of 100,000 ," Mai said.
WDC's proposed 6.5 per cent increase for next financial year is made up of three pieces – a 2.5 per cent lift to match New Zealand's annually-adjusted Local Government Cost Index (LGCI), a two per cent council rates lift on top of that and a two per cent post 2020/2021 Covid-19 catch up.
Its current year's 2.2 per cent rates lift over 2019/2020 had been cut back to include only matching the LGCI.
Mai said next year's two per cent post Covid-19 rates increase catch up was added in to get the council back to where it planned to be before the pandemic.
"The additional two per cent we are proposing for (the 2021/2022) year is only to get us back to where we planned to be pre-pandemic," Mai said.
Bruce Barron, Whananaki Beach Association president said the proposed 6.5 per cent increase for next year was disappointing.
He said the council should not be raising the rates by this amount for next year when forecasting showed the impact of Covid-19 would be greater at that time than it was now.
The two per cent post 2020/2021 Covid-19 catch up was not something he was in favour of adding to next year's rates.
Barron said rates were already particularly high for Whangārei's coastal areas.
The LTP will next head to the auditors before being finalised for public consultation on the new proposed LTP is expected to begin in March.
The plan aims to blend maintaining and investing in core infrastructure, preparing for future growth and delivering projects for the community.
"This is a (long term) plan that allow us to build resilience, future proof our infrastructure, take advantage of Government funding and deliver projects that we'll all benefit from as we recover the economic shocks of the pandemic," Mai said.
The council will be borrowing more to fund the proposed LTP work.
A big increase in transport spending's a key feature of the proposed next 10 years of rates spending with $47 million earmarked for sealing gravel roads.
Other proposed spending includes putting $17.6 million towards the Oruku Landing Conference Centre on Whangārei's Riverside Drive near the Town Basin.
The plan also includes $12 million for upgrading Forum North theatre facilities – rather than building a whole new lyric theatre on that site once the council exits that building for its new Rust Avenue Civic Centre.
There's also $5 million for the Hihiaua cultural centre on the edge of the Town Basin.
Dominic Kula, WDC general manager strategy and democracy said revitalising Whangārei's city centre was also part of the next decade's priorities.
Housing is also on the priority list – along with expanding Northport and/or relocating the New Zealand Navy to Whangārei.
Other spending includes $3.7 million on managing climate change impacts.
Rob Forlong, WDC chief executive said the council rates offered good value for money.
WDC's average residential rates bill was $2177 for a year. This compared with an average household's power bill cost $2000 a year or average $1700 phone and internet bill.
"For roughly the same price as one utility your rates provide water, wastewater, roads, libraries, sports parks, cultural facilities and rubbish collection," Forlong said.
His council had been using the same method of formulating its rates since 2015. This was continuing into the next decade's Long Term Plan, he said.
The formula was LGCI plus the council adding two per cent on top of that. Rates since 2015 had tracked lower than expected because the LGCI was lower over that time. WDC was working on an LGCI of 2.5 per cent for the new LTP.
The New Zealand Taxpayers' Union's 2020 ratepayers report said WDC's average residential rates were in the bottom third of 66 councils nationally, according to the council.