Porirua City Council may be making no friends in the city with its messages associated with the proposed 4.9 percent average rate increase, but apparent public apathy is just demonstrating how little importance ratepayers attach to this proposed increased charge.
After poorly attended residents association meetings, and meetings with Porirua business groups, no one is happy with the options proposed by the council for spreading the rates burden.
Not surprisingly, Pauatahanui Residents Association is opposed to adjusting the rural differential from 70 -75 percent; the Porirua Chamber of Commerce is opposed to the new city development levy; ratepayers in Camborne and Pukerua Bay are reeling at the prospect of an 8.5 and an 8.3 percent increase respectively in their rates, and the Porirua Economic Development Group believes the northern ward is being hit to pay for the wards in the east and the west.
Just 45 people attended the council’s presentation in Pauatahanui, 35 people at the Whitby meeting, 30 in Plimmerton – yet there are about 25,000 ratepayers in those three areas. Apathy, and a cynicism about the credibility of ‘consultation’ is still evident in our communities. It is that familiar “what the point of saying anything. The council will do what it wants anyway” argument.
But the rate increase, which is cumulative over the next four years, is a major commitment, foreshadowed in the council’s ten year plan, and now beginning to be implemented as the city council strives to achieve a balanced budget by 2021.
Part of the increase is associated with revaluations by Quotable Value last year and ”that is what it is”, according to the council. Their presentations focus mostly on the PCC annual plan for the next 12 months and justification of its preferred 4.9 percent average rate increase and much of it contains costs related to infrastructure and core services such as water, sewerage, rubbish collection, and roads, plus contracts which the council is already committed to such as the city centre splash pad, the city centre redevelopment, and the link roads to Transmission Gully expressway. To stop or cancel any of these ‘locked in” developments would in fact cost as much to get out of than to stay in.
The council provides feedback and submission opportunities, either online or via the public process, but many ratepayers believe it to be a foregone conclusion.
“Apart from saying we don’t like it, what is there to suggest?” is a common comment. “We can reduce costs by closing libraries, swimming pools, or cancelling the council provided rubbish collection but all of those options are unpalatable, and impact directly on the quality of life of residents, and the focus on children who supposed to be at forefront of city development.”
There is a sense that the only real consultation relates to other issues such as the introduction of the living wage, how to deal with our ever-increasing waste disposal needs, improvements to the city council office building, while a depreciation ‘catch up’ and changing financial systems is mandatory as the council strives to achieve a balanced budget by 2021. This will require compounding rate increases of nearly 5 percent on average for the next three years. As PCC Financial Manager Roy Baker said at the Plimmerton meeting: “It’s all come up at the same time really. It’s a perfect storm!”
So all in all the messages are not encouraging for ratepayers, but the affordability of those increases in rates does not seem to be an issue for council concern. The ‘affordability issue’ has been raised only in passing by a handful of residents at the meetings. Yet from a ratepayer point of view, affordability is probably the key consideration.
As well as this increase, the Greater Wellington Regional Council also heading towards a 5.6 percent rate increase for all households, collected via the PCC rates bill! So let’s just get ready for the squeals when the first rates bill arrive in the post in July!