Later this year ratepayers throughout the country have the opportunity to vote in the Local Territorial Authority Elections. For city, district and regional councils.
Community and local board elections are held at the same time. These are triennial elections.
The work of city and district councils has changed considerably over the years. Now because of their size and the dollars involved they are big businesses.
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The people elected are responsible for making the best decisions as to how and where the dollars collected through rates are spent.
Not an easy task balancing the books when you have competing demands. And central government doesn't help by pushing more and more on local authorities without providing the dollars necessary to carry out the additional work required of them.
Many councils have infrastructure that is ageing and requires major upgrading or renewal.
The maintenance work required is ongoing with millions of dollars needed. At some stage, deferring is bound to catch up. And the ratepayer can only shoulder so much. I can't see why the GST component of our annual rates bill can't be left with local authorities to use strictly for the upkeep and maintenance of vital infrastructure. Too simplistic I guess.
Of course, everyone has their views on where the money should be spent. You wouldn't believe how many people insist on telling me as a councillor what services they are entitled to and basically "to hell with anyone else".
It's a sense of entitlement that I most often observed in older people. Younger families tell me how much they love Rotorua but that they're struggling. An unexpected bill pushes them hard up against the wall. Last week it was a solo mother who can't afford her son's fees to attend special coaching. His sports potential has been recognised, but this must be nurtured through individualised coaching.
People don't just want to talk to me about wastewater, roading and building consents. They want to talk about what's going on in their lives and what's important to them.
Everyone has their idea of what makes a good councillor. I often hear "we need more business people on council". It's a mix of skills that are required but don't be fooled into thinking business people have the monopoly on common sense. They do not.
I was reminded last week of what I have always thought a local councillor should strive to be.
I attended the funeral of Don Riesterer QSO, NZCM, JP. Don was the first mayor of Opotiki when it became a district council in 1989. He served as mayor until 2001 and was made a Life Member of Local Government New Zealand in 2002.
Don was what I call your old time councillor. Widely respected, known to be fair and a man of his word. I got to know Don when I was a BOP regional councillor. He was a tower of a man. Huge in size with an unusual gravelly voice. You couldn't help but listen when Don spoke. He was a plain speaker, rarely used big words and you got the impression he had been waiting all day just to hear your views.
He showed interest in what you had to say. I never saw Don harangue anyone, but he always wanted to hear both sides of the argument. His stand out feature was his communication skills. He was equally at home speaking at community events, on the marae, in the board room and in the Beehive. He encouraged me to focus and concentrate on what really matters. Don was a man of the people involved not only in his community with his family and through civic duties but over the years with farming and gardening, school, sports, marae and his beloved church activities. He was a business person too.
It is the younger version of the Don Riesterer's of the world that I would like to encourage to think about standing later this year for election.
Men and women like Don know the value of community. They are not out to further their own interests. They are highly regarded for their thoughtfulness, respect for the views of others and inclusiveness when decisions must be made. I suppose this is a rather old fashioned view of a councillor today. I tend to think of it as a model of character and behaviour that never dates. A highly desirable role model in fact.
Merepeka Raukawa-Tait is a Rotorua district councillor, Lakes District Health Board member and chairs the North Island Whanau Ora Commissioning Agency. She writes, speaks and broadcasts to thwart political correctness