Special no more.
That’s the decision by Waka Kotahi NZ Transport Agency regarding two roads in Stratford District, and it’s a decision that has angered the district’s mayor.
In his monthly report to councillors, Stratford District Mayor Neil Volzke said the two access roads to Mt Taranaki, Manaia Rd and Pembroke Rd, have lost their status as “special purpose roads” and will now be categorised as “common local roads”.
It’s a decision which will have a negative financial impact on ratepayers, he said, explaining that special roads are eligible for a much higher funding assistance rate from Waka Kotahi. The change to status means ratepayers will now have to meet the shortfall created by the loss of that extra funding.
While the lower parts of each of the roads had always been local roads, the section of the two roads from the national park boundary had been classified as special purpose roads, recognising the fact there were no private properties beyond that point, said Neil.
“Making council cover the cost of clearing snow and maintaining them is like asking us to clear individual driveways. No one maintains my driveway or your farm track, yet Stratford ratepayers are being expected to do this. I think we should push back.”
Councillors agreed, with councillor Grant Boyde saying it was a “silly decision” by Waka Kotahi to remove the special purpose status of the two roads.
“I certainly want us to be sending a very strongly worded letter.”
Council officers said the cost of maintaining and clearing the two sections of road varied depending on how much snow had fallen over any particular year. A conservative estimate however would be at least $80,000 per year, said director of assets Victoria Araba.
“So that means our current roading budget would end up with $80,000 less available to other projects,” said councillor Boyde.
“Once again our ratepayers are being hit in the pocket by a decision we have no control over.”
Mayor Volzke said it translated as being a notable rate increase and asked officers if, given a bulk of that amount was spent on clearing snow for people to access the mountain, “as an option, could we legally not clear it?”.
Technically yes, said chief executive Sven Hanne.
“We could not clear it at all, or just up to the Mountain House, but that would limit access to the mountain and the ski field.”
Councillor Ellen Hall said she felt Waka Kotahi’s decision wasn’t in “the spirit” of building a good relationship.
“We are left caught between a rock and a hard place. If we maintain, it costs us. If we don’t, we are risking reputational cost and we aren’t delivering a service to our ratepayers. There is no good outcome here.”
Sven said there was no rule that said a council had to be the controlling authority for the road.
“So we could suggest to Waka Kotahi that as the sections of these roads are both surrounded by Department of Conservation land, DoC was a more suitable road controlling authority.”
Councillor Amanda Harris said that came with risk.
“Then we couldn’t stipulate they had to clear the snow. We would be at the peril of DoC, it would be outside of our control.”
Councillors agreed they should voice their concern to Waka Kotahi and challenge the decision.
“To put this cost on us, one of the smallest councils in New Zealand, it’s just wrong,” said Neil.
“We will voice this to Waka Kotahi, and perhaps when we get a new Minister of Transport, we can go to them too.”
Disclaimer: Editor Ilona Hanne is married to the CEO of Stratford District Council.