Horowhenua District Council hasn't taken a small axe to a proposed rate rise - it has rolled out the guillotine.

HDC met this week to consider a recommendation that rates be cut from a pre-Covid-19 average rate increase of 6.9 per cent to a charitable 1.42 per cent in response to the economic impacts of Covid-19 on its ratepayers.

There was more than one option on the table, however, and councillor Wayne Bishop led a majority vote for a rating decrease of 1.83 per cent for the next financial year.

Bishop had majority support from fellow councillors Victoria Kaye-Simmons, Todd Isaac, Robert Ketu, Pirihira Tukapua and Sam Jennings - a majority of just one.

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Bishop said he was motivated after listening to ratepayers who were strongly opposed to any type of rate increase given many had either lost jobs, taken pay cuts, or were facing significant losses due to Covid-19.

He spent countless hours during lockdown pouring through the books and believed HDC could cut its cloth to suit without sacrificing key projects.

Bishop spoke at length - well over the expected time of five minutes - confident that despite the rate reduction, the budget for the next year would be balanced as revenue would still be higher than operating expenses.

"I consider this a stunning result and trust that the reasoning behind these numbers will be the focus of attention during this debate rather than the headline figure," he said.

"There's not less work being done. We're not ripping up salaries. We are just looking at different ways of funding depreciation."

Bishop acknowledged the hard work put in by councillors and staff to the Covid-19 response.

"I think it's appropriate to acknowledge the work that has gone in over the last few months - the public need to know that Covid lockdown was not a time for councillors to sit at home passing the time," he said.

"We have never before dedicated such an amount of time to an annual plan ..."

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The Covid-19 crisis had seen long meetings of discussion and exhaustive reviews into all council projects and spending, and also taking on what was possibly the most extensive public consultation effort in council history.

It was reinforced around the table the hard work that CEO David Clapperton and council staff had put in during the Covid-19 lockdown period.

However, mayor Bernie Wanden, deputy mayor Jo Mason, Christine Mitchell, David Allan and Ross Brannigan all voted against the cuts, fearing they were a step too far.

Levin Ward Councilllor Bernie Wanden WGP 26Apr17 - WGP 04Oct17 - WGP 08Jun18 - WGP 24Aug18 - WGP 12Oct18 - Councillor Bernie Wanden WGP 26Oct18 - WGP 21Jun19 -
Levin Ward Councilllor Bernie Wanden WGP 26Apr17 - WGP 04Oct17 - WGP 08Jun18 - WGP 24Aug18 - WGP 12Oct18 - Councillor Bernie Wanden WGP 26Oct18 - WGP 21Jun19 -

Mayor Wanden said the rate cuts were a step in the wrong direction.

"We are going backwards. We are not investing in our future," he said.

"I struggle with the inference that there are more cuts that can be made considering the work we have done to cut budgets.

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"The reason we are in this predicament is past generations of ratepayers didn't plan for our future."

In a nutshell, the difference between the two options was an increase in borrowing of $1 million for future projects, rather than it being sourced from rates.

Bishop said the hard work was by no means over, and that further prudent spending was needed in future to address debt levels that now sat a more than $106m.

Much of that debt was incurred in the last decade in order to comply with increasing environmental demands put on council to upgrade water and waste water systems.

"These are all seriously expensive and the only way to achieve it is through debt funding," he said.

Jennings said there would need to be an ongoing watch on all spending.

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"The decision was a clear signal to the community that the majority of councillors are committed to ensuring every rate dollar is treated as precious. We are essentially asking council to make do with less to help our community through Covid-19," he said.

Brannigan summed it up best when he said that neither option was a wrong decision.

However, council did vote to continue with a controversial splash pad for the Donald Duck Park in Bath St, which could cost as much as $400,000, citing community wellbeing as a driving factor.

Investigations were under way for alternative funding.