There's a saying, "In life nothing is certain but death and taxes" and that includes rates. And like dentists, no one likes them, but rates are essential.

Even the most reluctant ratepayer knows that local councils use rates to fund and maintain important infrastructure and services. Things like roads and water supply, to libraries, museums, household waste and even animal control.

But who decides how rates are set?

"Each year the council staff will hold a series of workshops where all the projects will be discussed," said Rotorua Lakes councillor and mayoral candidate, Rob Kent.

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"All the nice-to-haves will be discussed and it will be narrowed down from those workshops as to what is desirable to go ahead, what can be put off 'til later, what's not necessary and so on," he said.

"Out of that, staff then come back and say - if you want to do all these things, this is what we need in the way of rates revenue to enable that to happen."

Kent said in Rotorua, rates were used in more ways than people realise.

"This is a big business that's being run. It is doing some massive projects. We've got some $88.1 million worth of new infrastructure projects that are in the long-term plan and that's just in the extension to the wastewater treatment plant, the Rotoiti/Rotoma sewerage scheme and the beginnings of the Tarawera scheme," he said.

"Then you look around and see all your local roads and ask, 'Why haven't you fixed my footpath and all the trees around the place that need to be trimmed and all the beautiful flowers that everybody raves about? And the cleanliness and tidiness and so on. The supply of water.

"Yes, you've got the basic infrastructure but there's so much more that the council does."

The bad news is rates will never come down. But councils are under increasing pressure to use them wisely.

"Now with the changing focus to having the four wellbeings operational, unless we're careful it's going to get worse because the council is being required to get involved in far more social issues," Kent said.

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"This is basically government duck-shoving it on to councils and we're going to have to lobby loud and hard and say, 'Well, if you want us to do it, give us some money to do it with because the ratepayer can't stand it'."

Rising rates have been cited by some residents as a reason for running for council.

Council candidate Linda Rowbotham said that's part of the reason why she was standing "because every year for the last three years my rates have gone up at least 6 per cent".

Candidate Ryan Grey said people should see value for money in their rates.

"When you get your bill and you look through it, you don't want to look at it and go, 'Bloody rates, why am I paying all this rubbish for?' You want to look at it and go - well actually no, I drove out of my road and it was a nice clean road," he said.

"I went on a footpath and it was clean, there are no cracks. When I turn on the tap there's freshwater coming out. I've got good quality public spaces to enjoy."

So will rates ever get a fair go or will they forever be a political football?

"It doesn't matter how much you explain it to the public," Kent said.

"You can take out full-page ads in the press, you can explain it to people and basically they look at one number and that's what is the total bill I've got to pay for my rates. That's the only time most of them even look at it when they're screaming they've got to find the extra dollars."

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