A $500,000 children's playground has become a symbolic target for a growing number of ratepayers wanting Horowhenua District Council to freeze rates.

A new splash pad at the Donald Duck Park on Bath St was in the pipeline before the outbreak of Covid-19 but it is now described as a want, not a need, by ratepayers feeling the economic pinch. They are urging the council to reduce spending and cut its proposed 6.9 per cent rate increase.

HDC was bending over backwards to gather feedback before it locked in any rate increase and hosted exhaustive Zoom meetings this week over two days, where people spoke to more than 150 submissions.

Submissions came from Federated Farmers and other rural groups, business owners, church groups, Grey Power, ratepayers associations, health groups and past councillors.

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Most wanted the council to get back to core services and postpone any non-essential work.

Federated Farmers Horowhenua chairman Geoff Kane said he wanted council to review its work programme and remove or delay all non-essential projects until the effects of Covid-19 were fully understood.

Horowhenua / Manawatu Rural Support Trust co-ordinator Geoff Kane WGP 15May15 - WGP 19Jun15 - GEOFF Kane, Federated Farmers representative in Horowhenua. FILE WGP 20Nov15 - WGP 22
Horowhenua / Manawatu Rural Support Trust co-ordinator Geoff Kane WGP 15May15 - WGP 19Jun15 - GEOFF Kane, Federated Farmers representative in Horowhenua. FILE WGP 20Nov15 - WGP 22

The rural sector was expected to take a hit from Covid-19, with lamb and beef prices falling and the payout to dairy farmers expected to follow, and many could ill-afford a steep rise in rates.

Grey Power representative Lew Rohloff said the organisation supported a zero rate increase.

"It is clearly necessary for council to utilise whatever power it has to curtail new
project and non-urgent renewals during the year ending 30th June 2021 with a view to
delaying borrowings and reducing rate revenue."

Lew Rohloff WGP 14Jun19 - LVN200319greyHorowhenua Grey Power committee member Lew Rohloff.
Lew Rohloff WGP 14Jun19 - LVN200319greyHorowhenua Grey Power committee member Lew Rohloff.

Horowhenua Ratepayers Association said "it is fiscally and morally irresponsible" to consider a 6.9 per cent rate increase "while the district's residents are grappling with major disruptions on an as yet undetermined economic scale".

Foxton Community Board chairman David Roache wanted a zero increase and said many businesses would take a long time to recover from the lockdown, and feared some wouldn't.

"This is an unprecedented time. Council needs to help its ratepayers," he said.

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Horowhenua Mayor Bernie Wanden said all projects and potential rate rises were under urgent review.

He assured submitters that the council would review all expenditure before releasing the Annual Plan.

The council had until the end of next month to lock in the Annual Plan and there is every indication there will be a trimming of the fat.

But although the Covid-19 economic pain was laid bare in the submissions, there was also a strong argument that not every ratepayer would be affected economically by the virus.

The council may adopt a rates postponement strategy on a case-by-case basis. All essential infrastructure projects would still need funding, and any blanket rate reduction could be unnecessary.

Meanwhile, there was support for the splash pad, including a submission from SportManawatū, citing it as a free public amenity that would enhance community wellbeing.

Three Splash Pad options were put forward for public consultation before the outbreak of Covid-19.

• Remove the paddling pool, but have no splash pad. (Estimated cost $30,000).

• Remove the paddling pool and build a splash pad. (Estimated cost
$450,000).

• Remove the paddling pool and the council contributes $250,000 to the splash pad but the community raises the additional funding.

The splash pad was to replace a paddling pool at the Donald Duck Park due for upgrade or demolition within the next few years.

Donald Duck.
Donald Duck.

There were also suggestions the Donald Duck Park was the wrong site for a splash pad and it should be erected near the Levin Aquatic Centre, although that could dissuade people from paying for a swim in the pool.

It was also noted the Donald Duck Park did not have adequate changing facilities or parking and that a splash pad used a lot of water during the driest of months.

Splash pads had proven popular in areas like Raumati Beach.