A 9.2 per cent average rates rise for Rotorua in next financial year has passed its first hurdle and is likely to be approved by the council.
The decision was made at a Rotorua Lakes Council Strategy, Policy and Finance Committee meeting on Tuesday afternoon, which completed committee-level deliberations on the 2021-2031 draft Long-term Plan for the district.
The next step will be final full-council approval, scheduled for the end of June.
Rotorua mayor Steve Chadwick said a rates rise didn't "sit easily" with any of the elected members, but the rise would fund investment in the region, including on infrastructure, which was "really wise stewardship" and "not profligate spending".
She said she got "hit" on social media regularly about "vanity" projects but she believed the council did the "right thing to complete the projects we started".
"We had to keep going on those projects we really believed in. They're going to be beacons."
Deputy mayor Dave Donaldson said it was never easy to confront a 9.2 per cent rates rise in the first year of a Long-term Plan.
He noted "belt-tightening" at the council, including a wage freeze.
"We haven't been spending willy-nilly."
Rural Community Board chairwoman Shirley Trumper said there had been "years and years" of poor asset management by previous councils and projects such as the Sir Howard Morrison Performing Arts Centre and the Rotorua Museum were unexpected costs due to earthquakes and asbestos.
She said they could have been "closed up and left to become derelict" but the council had decided not just to repair them but make them better and "fit for the future".
She said the rates rise was "inevitable" and small compared to other authorities' rises and called for better communication with ratepayers about hardship assistance available to them if they would struggle to pay.
Te Tatau o Te Arawa representative Potaua Biasiny-Tule said he had heard complaints from some people about the proposed rates rise but the same people also wanted progress in the district, and he'd asked them how they could be funded other than from rates.
"Sorry cuzzies, I support the rate increase ... with better communication and greater compassion for those who can't [pay]. So long as we get good bang for our buck and valuable services, no one will begrudge that."
Councillors Raj Kumar and Peter Bentley voted against the rates-rise recommendation.
Kumar said rates were "already too high" and Bentley said the 9.2 per cent average rise was "beyond the ability for many of our folk'.
"The job of this council should be to look after infrastructure first. The history of this council is not very good with responsible spending."
The committee also agreed to support $2.5 million to bring forward sewerage reticulation at Lake Tarawera, to provide those residents with more certainty on the cost for that project.
It would also set up a sub-committee to identify about 25 per cent of ratepayers in that area who would not be able to pay a lump sum for that project, and develop viable repayment options.
The committee also supported detailed design work for the project to begin in 2021 and to bring the overall project forward into years two to four rather than years five to six.
The issue had been the subject of a public meeting at Lake Tarawera where residents had expressed concern about a request from the council that benefitting ratepayers pay an estimated $33,000 lump sum each for reticulation by August 2024.
It had also prompted Rotorua MP Todd McClay to write to Chadwick calling on the council to allow some flexibility in payment options for the Tarawera community.
In the meeting, Rotorua Lakes Community Board chairman Phill Thomass said the Tarawera community had been passionate and proactive about reticulation and largely supported the scheme.
"The hesitancy is only ever around the cost."
He said any delay to the scheme meant the cost would go up "so the sooner we start it the better".
Responding to a question from councillor Sandra Kai Fong, council chief financial officer Thomas Colle confirmed the money for the 25 per cent of people who could not pay an estimated $33,000 lump sum for their contribution to the project would be debt-funded.
He said as a result, the council would temporarily move "quicker and closer" to its 250 per cent debt limit and there was only a small amount of leeway allowable.
Chadwick said the Tarawera community would be "really delighted" by the committee's decisions.
The committee applauded its unanimous decision.
The committee then turned its attention to the Westbrook Sport and Recreation Precinct.
That was another thorny topic with supporters of Springfield golf course, which could be redeveloped by the project, for which $61 million had been allocated in the draft Long-term Plan.
Trumper put forward an amendment to defer the discussion as the topic had not formally been part of Long-term Plan consultation but was a part of deliberations due to a petition from Saving Springfield.
She said there was no full proposal and that proposal needed to undergo its own consultation process with the wider community before the committee could consider it.
Chairing the meeting, Merepeka Raukawa-Tait summarised concerns that the discussion was "premature" and could be seen to short-change the rest of the community which had not been formally invited to provide feedback on it.
Bentley said the committee should be "providing surety for the people who are using this green space" and called the Westbrook proposal a "money-making proposition for this council".
"Why can we not come to the party right now and say we will not be disturbing this golf course?
"To lose it by creating a sporting precinct ... is totally the wrong thing to do for that area."
His words were met with applause from five people in the gallery, which included Saving Springfield president Robert Lee and golf club vice-president Gary Herbert.
Kai Fong said she thought an original motion, that acknowledged the petition, should stand as it kept the issue "front of mind for everyone".
Trumper's amendment passed with Bentley, Kumar and Kai Fong opposed.
The committee also unanimously supported a 30-year infrastructure strategy, with Chadwick saying it was "absolutely critical" investment in infrastructure continued.
"You don't sweat these assets and think you can get away with it."
Rotorua Lakes councillor Reynold Macpherson was not at the committee meeting as he was speaking at a Whanganui Ratepayers Association meeting on the importance of ratepayer participation in local government.