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‘I want my money back now’: Featherston residents face council at 30% rate hike

“The elephant in the room is confidence.”

That was the sentiment of Featherston resident Theodore Taptiklis after Monday night’s rate meeting in Featherston.

The event was the second in a series of meetings organized by the South Wairarapa District Council (SWDC) to address its poor communication on tariffs that has upset taxpayers and left some unable to pay their tariffs.

In its consultation paper on the long-term plan, released in March, SWDC said it was to collect an additional 17.65 percent in rates during the fiscal year.

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This contradicted the plan itself which indicated that tariff revenue for this fiscal year would be $ 19,921, an increase of 29.6% from the previous year.

The council has since apologized for the miscommunication and said the difference resulted from the council borrowed $ 1.5 million last year to give taxpayers a rate holiday amid Covid-19, while continuing its proposed work program.

Taptiklis, who has been a Southern Wairarapa taxpayer for 25 years, said a 29 percent rate hike “in a world of five percent inflation is a wild fantasy … it’s totally unreasonable.”

He said he had a sense of “arrogance and entitlement” in the council’s response to the miscommunication and felt the council’s remedy was “not good enough”.

The board is expected to approve a remedy on Nov. 17, but its preferred option for engagement is to cut costs that don’t significantly reduce service levels and carry the savings over to the next fiscal year.

“I want my money back now,” Taptiklis said.

He said the council was tasked by taxpayers to perform “a number of simple tasks” and said costs should be easily predictable “on the basis of many years of prior experience”.

“The infrastructure costs are easy to manage if we set aside a little bit each year. “

Mayor Alex Beijen said: “Thank you for a very simplistic view of what the council does,” to which the public reacted with screams.

“City services are not static,” Beijen said, nor were they managed by the Consumer Price Index – “We don’t buy cauliflower”.

Rather, the big cost determinants were meeting new standards set by the government and increasing construction costs, he said.

He said the tariff increase was necessary to address the historic underinvestment in council infrastructure and meet new government standards, especially with regard to water-related assets.

Regarding the lack of communication on tariffs, taxpayer Jim Hedley believed that this could be explained by one of two things: “incompetence” or dishonesty.

He asked which one it was, but no one answered that.

Previously, the SWDC had confirmed that it had only learned about the impact of last year’s loan on the rate hike “around mid-August 2021”.

This was after the council approved the LTP and rates increased in late June.

Taxpayer Daphne Geisler said she was at the 2020 meeting when “a number of taxpayers said [council] on the impact of taking out a loan ”.

“I think it’s a memorable meeting because they called you the city clerk,” she told Wilson.

“There was no hint of the loan [impact] in the LTP. You could not have forgotten about the loan. It must have taken a lot of effort not to even mention the loan.

Wilson said he was happy to “replay the chart” by explaining the impact of the tariffs and remedying the communication problem that arose.

Geisler said it was “quite patronizing”.

Wilson said: “Like I said earlier, we should have communicated this better and sooner.”

“We’re sorry. We should have informed you better. We should have made sure the message got to you. We should have made sure everyone understood the reasons. We failed to communicate clearly and consistently. We apologize for that. “

Another taxpayer asked: “

Wilson said he understood there was a “trust issue”.

“If I were you I would have the same problem,” he said.

The council had discussed three options to remedy the problem and would make a decision on the way forward at a plenary council meeting on November 17.

Another tariff meeting would take place in Martinborough on Thursday.