Treat Lake Tarawera the same as other sewerage reticulation schemes, and if not, explain why you can't.
That's the message from Rotorua MP Todd McClay to Rotorua Lakes Council on its proposal to charge Lake Tarawera residents an uncapped $33,000 lump sum for sewerage reticulation.
McClay wrote to Mayor Steve Chadwick calling on the council to give residents the option to pay the sum off over time.
"Previous schemes implemented by [the] council have been paid for by users contributing each year in addition to their rates bill," he wrote to Chadwick on April 30.
"Give them the option to either make a lump-sum payment or pay for this scheme over a period of time similar to other schemes in the Rotorua area.
"This would go some way to alleviate financial stress many ratepayers may face and ensure that the scheme retains community support."
It follows an April 21 public meeting between residents and district and regional council representatives where residents aired their concerns about the scheme.
Of particular concern to some was the council's request, via a letter, that benefiting ratepayers paid an estimated $33,000 for sewerage reticulation by August 20, 2024.
The figure was based on an estimated $22.5 million for the project, $7.4m of which was covered by the Ministry for the Environment, the council and the Bay of Plenty Regional Council.
The council needed 75 per cent of people to agree to the scheme before detailed design work for the scheme could begin.
McClay met with Tarawera residents Gillian Cooke and Owen Dawe on April 30 to discuss their concerns with the scheme.
At the meeting, Dawe said the council was "threatening" residents with the letter.
Cooke said people were "beside themselves with worry" about the lump-sum payment.
"Our preferred option is that in fairness, as per the other lakes … that it's put on our rates."
McClay told Dawe and Cooke councils must "follow proper and due process".
"They must treat everybody the same and fairly.
"I can see no reason why the residents of Lake Tarawera should be treated any differently.
"If they're not able to do that, the council should explain to the residents and be up front as to why you need to be treated differently [to] every other lake in Rotorua."
He said the best way to make sure the council got 75 per cent of the community on board was to ensure the cost of the infrastructure was shared over time.
McClay said the estimated $33,000 lump sum was a lot of money and while there was no guarantee it would remain at that cost, in most other similar schemes the cost had come in below the estimate.
He said it was possible there was a view on the council that Tarawera was a wealthy community but in his experience that wasn't true.
Reticulation systems had noticeably improved water quality in lakes in other areas and in some places it had contributed to an increase in the value of nearby houses, he said.
"If there is a way for the council to relieve the burden and make it fairer for the cost over time, they should."
Speaking to Local Democracy Reporting on Friday, Lake Tarawera Ratepayers' Association chairwoman Libby Fletcher said her committee understood the pain the people in the community were going through.
She said McClay's letter was "absolutely right" and "very fair".
"It's not equitable compared to other schemes.
"We're basically having to front up with all the money and that's not right."
She said some residents were on fixed incomes or a pension.
"People don't have $33,000 tucked down the back of the sofa."
The council was asked why the payment had to be a lump sum and whether there had been any other communities that only had the option of that payment plan.
Chadwick was asked what her response to McClay's letter was and whether she believed the proposed payment scheme was, as it stood, fair and equitable.
Both the council and Chadwick were also invited to reply to comments in this article.
The council and mayor respond
From Rotorua Mayor Steve Chadwick:
"[The] council has been talking to and working with the Tarawera community on a reticulation scheme for several years now and we are very aware of residents' views and concerns.
"This matter will be part of upcoming Long-term Plan deliberations and it's not appropriate for me to pre-empt those discussions."
From infrastructure group manager Stavros Michael:
"This is the council's agreed Funding Policy for the scheme, as decided as part of the current (2018-28) Long-term Plan - see p24 of the current LTP. It is a matter for elected members if they wish to consider an alternative option as part of the 2021-2031 Long-term Plan deliberations.
"Payment options previously implemented for the Hamurana/Awahou, Mourea/Okawa Bay, Hinemoa Point, Rotokawa/Brunswick, Okere Falls/Otaramarae/Whangamarino, Ōkareka and Rotoiti/Rotomā Sewerage Schemes, allowed for an option to pay as an up-front lump-sum payment, or a targeted rate option – as per the agreed funding policy for each scheme."