Terre Nicholson's house in Te Kūiti is meant to be her forever home.
Two years ago she and husband Mike, a pensioner, could not afford to buy what they wanted in Hamilton, where Nicholson's job as an environmental consultant was based.
So they looked around and decided on a 1970s house on a classic Kiwi quarter-acre section (1250m sq), in the small King Country town.
But the couple didn't bank on the soaring rates in the Waitomo District.
"We knew the rates were high but the cost of the house was low. We wanted a place we could basically retire in. This is our forever home."
When they bought the house for $445,000, the rates were around $3000 per year.
"And then they went up. And now they've gone up again."
In two years the rates have spiked by more than $1000 to $4200 per year. That's $350 a month.
Nicholson says for now the extra $50 a month she must find is not a hardship, however the 65-year-old American has stage four breast cancer.
"I'm lucky right now but you never know when that situation might change. When I get to the point where I can't work anymore and we're both on a fixed income with the pension, it may mean we have to sell the house because we can't afford the rates."
And Nicholson is not alone.
"An average [rates bill] in Te Kūiti is right around $4000," says Waitomo mayor John Robertson.
The first-term mayor at Waitomo, a former National MP and Papakura mayor who grew up in nearby Piopio, campaigned on a two-year rates freeze.
He won, ousting long-serving mayor Brian Hanna at the local government elections last October.
But when it came to the residential rates rise vote in June, the council voted 6-1 against their mayor for a 1.54 per cent increase.
Rates for rural - farmers and lifestyle blocks - increased up to 5 per cent.
While some "townies" have celebrated small rate decreases, many have been hit hard in a district made up of farmers and tiny rural communities, 44 per cent Māori and one of the country's biggest tourism attractions - the Waitomo Caves - where job losses were rife due to Covid-19.
Rates on farm land are at least 50 per cent higher than in neighbouring Ōtorohanga.
The reason for the high rates is debt. During the past 10 years Waitomo has upgraded water supply and roading infrastructure, plunging the council into a $52 million hole.
The council has been clawing that back since 2015.
"It's been on or above $40 million for at least nine years," Robertson says. "It was council spending that created the debt and we've inherited a $40 million debt. We've got to rating levels that are as high as they should get to."
This year's rate rise would net the council about $317,000 extra for the year.
While it was the lowest overall rate increase in 10 years, Waitomo still had the highest debt per capita of all rural councils in New Zealand.
Waitomo District, population 9600, is the fifth-most indebted council in the country, behind Christchurch, Auckland, Dunedin and Queenstown.
Robertson, once in charge of commissioners sent to fix governance issues at Kaipara District Council, wants to keep his promise and freeze rates next year.
"I didn't get there on the first year but the second year I'm hoping the council will support a no-rate increase."
But council infighting may stymie that.
Asked if the vote to increase rates was a way of undermining Robertson and his campaign promise, Robertson said he did not think the council's decision was political.
However, in July this year the council announced a complaint against Robertson by all six councillors had been upheld.
An appointed investigator found Robertson breached the council's Code of Conduct relating to maintaining public confidence when he said in a May newspaper opinion column most of the councillors would vote against a rates freeze.
The councillors said the information came from a private conversation and that the mayor's comments represented "a gross breach of trust" which undermined their confidence in exploring issues and policy options with him.
"As in any governance situation, all elected members need to be held to the same standard in respecting common understandings about what "stays in the room" and what doesn't when they discuss and explore issues informally in advance of formal meeting settings," the investigator said.
Robertson told the Herald he was passionate about transparency in local government and he wanted to bring more decisions of the council into public.
At the council's May 26 decision on rates, Te Kūiti resident Katrina Winn presented a petition to the council imploring it to freeze rates for the year.
"We ask the mayor and the councillors to put their political agendas aside and look at the financial facts, consider the unprecedented economic impact of Covid-19 on community and I think it will be greater in this community than many others, and to make a decision that reflects the times we are in, and benefits the wellbeing of people."
She said the 1.54 per cent increase was mooted before Covid-19.
"We're in a pretty dire situation here. There's no shame at all in councillors rethinking their position in the light of the impact on this community."
In Waitomo village alone about 150 jobs were lost because of the virus.
"I find it morally reprehensible that councillors would vote against the national trend of all major councils and businesses to live within their means."
Federated Farmers told the council these were not "business-as-usual times", and that they expected a "careful line by line reassessment of spending against the backdrop of the significant changes and uncertainty created by the Covid-19 pandemic".
They were disappointed that did not happen.
Waitomo branch chairman Chris Irons, who has a 400-hectare sheep and beef farm at Kinohaku, between coastal towns Marokopa and Kawhia, pays $11,200 in rates a year.
Some farmers the Herald spoke to pay upwards of $30,000 annually, with one farmer saying he had similar sized farms in both Waitomo and Ōtorohanga but in Waitomo the rates were about $10,000 more.
Irons said farmers don't use sewerage, drinking water or stormwater services, and largely rely only on roads.
He said farmers were concerned with council spending, "nice-to-have projects" and the behaviour of the council.
"Farmers are annoyed with the way the councillors have been acting, the disconnect between the mayor and the councillors.
"There is a lot of concern from farmers that councillors aren't actually listening to what the public wanted."
He acknowledged Waitomo was dotted with tiny communities such as Benneydale, Piopio, Mokau, and Marokopa that had required expensive water and sewerage infrastructure.
Waikato Federated Farmers president Jacqui Hahn, who farms in the district, said farmers were dealing with a lot of pressure including ongoing costs from a drought.
"Banking on farmers resilience as an excuse, is an awful excuse to raise rates, rather than looking and truly testing if expenditure savings can be made.
"My resilience is sorely being tested."
Retired farmer Rob Buckley's home has an unrivalled view of State Highway 3 as it winds into Te Kūiti from the north.
Buckley's son Matt still runs a family farm situated on the border between the Waitomo and Ōtorohanga districts at Rangitoto, where Buckley says the rates are double what they would be if rated in Ōtorohanga.
"In any successful business you always use comparisons or benchmarks to measure your performance/productivity, and to me that [rates difference] was really hard to explain.
"In my opinion we had the opportunity of holding rates with such a large debt and the reduction in interest rates."
Buckley, who has previously addressed the council with his concerns, worries rates will put people off from moving to the district and wanted to see the council return to core business.
"Something's got to happen because rates are killing Te Kūiti."
Waitomo deputy mayor Guy Whitaker argued the district was in "good shape" because most of its infrastructure had been completed, meaning future rates increases would not be high.
"Because we are in a position where we don't need big increases, we felt it was prudent to actually have the small increase so we weren't likely to push forward a problem of ... a small increase turning into a big increase further down the track."
The council didn't believe it necessary to reassess the budget after Covid-19 struck in March, Whitaker says, and it didn't want to reduce services.
He said the debt was tracking to below $40m this year.
"Well back into the early 2000s there was probably some mismanagement over that time that increased our debt. They didn't increase rates and borrowed money.
"We haven't had low debt and that's always been an issue but we are now in a position where we are actually starting to claw back on our debt."
For Terre Nicholson, hindsight is a wonderful thing.
The cancer has spread to her bones. She found out when her femur broke.
"I was given one year to live almost eight years ago."
Nicholson's cancer was caused by her job in the United States where she cleaned up contaminated land, including the Nevada Test Site, where nuclear weapons were tested between 1951 and 1992.
A recent payout from the US Government means she can renovate her house, an otherwise unaffordable luxury in Te Kūiti.
Some of her colleagues have already died of cancer. Walking is difficult and there's some back pain, so Nicholson knows it's only a matter of time before she will have to give up her job.
"If people are on fixed incomes, which I will be at some point as well, and the rates go up by $50 a month it may mean the difference between having heat or food, or having to sell the house.
"I'll be honest, had I done appropriate due diligence I probably would not have bought in this district."
She called for more transparency from the council.
"People are doing it really tough and so if ever there was a year to give people a bit of a break, this is it."