SUBMISSION ON RATES CONSULTATION, AND 2017/18 ANNUAL PLAN

Following the presentation by councillors and officers from PCC at the April meeting of the Whitby Residents Association, the committee passed the following motion:-

  1. Of the options presented, Option 4 is the preferred one for our support as it would off-set the effect of revaluation in Whitby. We support the City Development Rate, the adjustment to the Rural Differential and the reduction of the Uniform Annual General Charge. We commend the Council for the innovative thinking which resulted in this mixture of measures under Option 4.
  2.  However, we contend that the focus of the consultation should be the 4.9% base-increase for the works programme for 2017-18, which is not sufficiently discussed on page 5 of the document and appears to be taken as a ‘fait accompli’. In the opinion of the WRA Committee the issue of affordability seems to be disregarded. This increase is too high and residents cannot be expected to cover the entire shortfall of $60 million. The simplistic methodology of calculating the ‘nice-to-have’ funding and then simply dividing it between the ratepayers who are expected to foot the bill regardless of its size, fails to take into consideration the ability of ratepayers to pay. Our households have reached the limit of our rate paying capacity.

We would suggest the increase should be lowered to the essentials without which the council would not be able to perform its core functions. According to Councillor Leggett, that would mean an increase of 3.5%. Not more. The combined effect of the above two points would be a total average increase of 3.4% (rather than 4.8%).  WRA opposes any increase over and above that figure.

Geoff Mowday

Chairman, Whitby Residents Association

Tel 04 235 8901 mobile 027 480 8071.

 

 Commentary at public hearing on May 16, 2017

 Mr Chairman,

Thank you for allowing me to make this submission. Today, here, I represent the Whitby Residents Association which has a membership of about 100 people, and is an active residents association.

You have seen the two motions which were passed by our committee as a result of the recent consultation meeting we had in Whitby. I don’t propose to repeat those today but I would like to make two more general comments today in respect of the whole rates consultation process and content of the rates discussion documents, and take this opportunity to try to clear up a misconception.

We understand the process which PCC has used to identify how much rates funding it needs. we understand the calculation to arrive at the figure of $60million shortfall but I believe and WRA believe that one issue which has not been addressed is the question of affordability.

It is all relatively simple for accountants to ask engineers to prepare a works programme for the year. The engineers decide the engineering. Then those accountants look at those costs, and they decide how much has to come from ratepayers. Is that peer reviewed by anyone?  How do we know for sure that those costs are correct?

Contrary to popular belief, most people who live in Whitby are not rich. We might have nice houses, but we carry a mortgage, and we have a family of two or more children, or we are retired. If we are still working, and most of us are, we have higher cost of living expenses if we have teenagers at university, and we establish a standard of living which we can afford, but we pay the price for that already.  Every extra dollar cost which we have to bear attacks that quality of life, yet it is the desirable nature of Whitby that makes people want to come and live in our part of the city, and grow the population, which in turn grows the ratepayer base for the council.

We believe that the prospect of a five percent rate increases over the next few consecutive years will be a major disincentive to people to relocate to Whitby, and it is an attack on the income and the quality of life of those who live here now.

And while I am on this aspect, lets get the misconception sorted too  – The popular misconception that ‘Whitby people can afford it’ is indeed just that – a misconception. Make no mistake about this… Households in the areas covered by the Whitby Residents Association have now reached the limit of their rate paying capacity. We may be asset rich but we only get the benefit of that when we sell, and most of us don’t want to sell because we like where we live. In the meantime, we are reliant on our income for firstly our mortgage payments, and then our day to day living expenses, of which rates is a part, and an increasingly larger part.

The question of affordability is not something that council can ignore. It is very real to most people. Rates has to be the most sensitive issue which councillors will ever have to deal with, especially when as individuals, northern ward ratepayers may not necessarily use a lot of council services. A lot of Whitby now uses private rubbish collection services. We may not be big library users. We may not be swimming pool users. And for those services, we would probably support the notion of user pays.

And this conveniently brings to my second point – we think it is a big ask for the council to ask us how to reduce your expenses. Certainly there was insufficient information in the consultation document to give us much help on that. Showing costs in nice graphs and charts looks fine but it doesn’t give us the detail to make sensible cost savings suggestions.  We are not privy to council financial affairs, and we don’t necessary understand all of them. We don’t know whether a sewerage treatment station for instance, costs $300,000 or $3 million, and asking us to help you to contain costs, we think is an unreasonable expectation.

Nobody know the costs better than the council, or it should. Surely that is council’s responsibility to ensure that real and actual figures are used, and sensible alternatives with costs attached are offered.

What is clear to us is that our council appears to be a small council struggling under the weight of increasing costs. There is no second stream of income. There appears to be no real effort to amalgamate services with other councils to try to save costs.  Are you absolutely sure that you get a ‘value for money’ proposition from every one of your employees or contractors?  We have all seen the three men who are needed to change a light bulb. We have all seen two men who spent 45 minutes putting out temporary road signs… and then forgetting to collect then at the end of the job, and having to come back again the next day to do so, and the road sweeper, texting on his phone, as he completes passes over new chip work on the roads.  Of course they may be contractors, but who pays them?

I would say a 3.5% increase is the most we can take this time. If it means depreciation would have to wait, so be it.  Roy Baker and his team are employed to get the PCC in the best financial position and he does a good job at that, but the price is our deteriorating financial situation.

There is already some widespread scepticism about the ‘value for money’ proposition in our rates. Continued increases with no apparent improvement in services or delivery just adds fuel to fire. We would ask that you look again at your figures, recognise the affordability element and review that 4.9 percent increase.