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Fixing the Library, and controlling the rates

central-2

by Lindsay Shelton
Wellington city councillors last week had a chance to reconsider their never-ending enthusiasm for approving annual rates increases. They debated the idea of saving a bit of money. And then voted not to save it. This week they’re facing the same issue in a more serious form – with yesterday’s sudden closure of the Central Library, they’ll need to set new priorities for spending, but they’ll have to realise that they can’t keep asking ratepayers to give them more money.

Last week’s debate was launched by Andy Foster, who’d been advised that though the council has announced a 3.9 per cent rates increase this year, average residential rates are likely to go up by by six per cent, because of revaluations. “A number that’s going to be very uncomfortable for a lot of people,” he said, according to a report in the DomPost. Andy then suggested delaying half a million dollars worth of development work for the extravagant covered arena that’s being considered for the waterfront. Brian Dawson said he was “not at all comfortable” with this spending. Diane Calvert said the council needed to put “cost-savings on the table.” Sarah Free said she was “increasingly concerned about the burden on ratepayers”.

Then came the vote. Would councillors vote to save half a million dollars? The count was seven for savings, and seven against. Deputy mayor Jill Day used her casting vote. She voted against the spending cut. The chance to take a stand – albeit a small one – was lost.

But yesterday’s unexpected closure of the Central Library raises the issue again. Suddenly the council is faced with a considerable extra spend, to strengthen one of the city’s most popular buildings.

There should be no disagreement that fixing the library is a top priority. The mayor says it is used by 3000 people every day – that’s more than 20,000 people every week. Which should lift it to the top of the council’s priority list, way ahead of the $150m convention centre, which won’t be used by nearly as many people. It will be empty on many days, and on the occasions when it has succeeded in attracting a conference, the maximum number of users will be 2000. And few of them will be locals.

There’s no doubt which building is more important for Wellingtonians. And in a tweet yesterday afternoon Justin Lester agreed. He tweeted::

The Library is our immediate priority.

The mayor is also a consistent supporter of strengthening the Town Hall, even though work has been so long delayed. So there’s no disagreement on the council’s two most important building projects. However it’s not yet clear how he proposes to pay the considerable unexpected costs of strengthening the Library.

He and his chief executive must be well aware that they cannot ask for another rates increase. Six per cent in election year is not going to be popular. The solution could well be that the the council calls a halt to the convention centre, and moves the $150m to the Library to ensure that it is strengthened and reopened as soon as possible. Not that the council has a good record with such matters – the Town Hall was closed for strengthening in 2013, six years later work hasn’t begun, and we’ve now been told it won’t be reopening till 2024. It’s bad enough not having the Town Hall for so many years. It would be worse to expect Wellington to wait for ten years for its Central Library to reopen.

And the Library strengthening costs must not become an extra load on ratepayers. Comments from Wellington.Scoop readers show just what the community is thinking:

No convention centre, no airport runway, no stadium, no more vanity projects until the Town Hall and Library are fully fixed up
– some excellent wishful thinking from Dave Armstrong

What projects is the Council going to drop or postpone to make room for the priority work on the Library?
– James S

I hope that the Wgtn City Council shelves its plans for an unnecessary convention centre, and prioritises our Library and our Town Hall: amenities for the people
– Corinna Connor

If the WCC doesn’t shelve vanity projects like the convention centre and covered arena, there is likely to be a ratepayers’ revolt as we cannot sustain enormous rate increases to satisfy their egos.
– Michael

The Library and Town Hall must take absolute priority. The convention centre is a nonsense which stands no chance of paying its way.
– Trevor H

Ratepayer funds going into a convention centre for the privileged few instead of into the library for all Wellingtonians? Wrong priorities, mayor and councillors
– Meredith

It’s fast becoming the costliest little capital in the world with rates increases far higher than average wage increases and insurance costs rising in a similar fashion.
– Northland

I made a submission on the Annual Plan in 2014 about rates affordability for those on fixed incomes. The response from Cr Pannett was that people struggling to pay their rates should effectively spend all their savings if they had any left, then apply to the WCC for their rates payments to be offset against their estate at death. Rather blinkered logic from her and nearly all the other spendthrift councillors in attendance. I don’t think many would want to have WCC officers being granted access to their financial accounts to prove how dire their financial situation is, and made worse by rates increase percentages being several times more than their income increases. My WCC/GWRC rates have increased by 24% since 2012, the General Retirement Income has increased by 16% in the same period. Paying rates is mandatory, paying for health and dental care is optional, as is buying nutritional food. House maintenance gets deferred by many property owners on fixed incomes, which ends up more costly in the longer term. Those on the average hourly wage have been impacted even more by rates increases since 2012, as their incomes have risen less.
– Keith Flinders

It’s election year. How many candidates will be making rates increases an election issue?

11 comments:

  1. Mark Cubey, 20. March 2019, 8:14

    Wellington needs its central library back ASAP.
    It does NOT need:
    A temporary home for ballet downtown (use the space for the library and send the ballet to Auckland);
    A Chinese garden on the waterfront (stop this Ill-advised project now).

     
  2. Diane Calvert, 20. March 2019, 8:27

    Just to clarify a couple of things. At the committee mtg last week. I raised first the matter about being transparent on what the rate rise % for residential ratepayers will be & requested officers calculate that for the next iteration of the draft annual plan. Up until last week, the only figure published was an average across both residential & commercial.

    The debate last week was at committee stage & about what should be in the draft Annual Plan which will go out for public consultation next month. The final draft prior to consultation is before Council next week. It will be made public later this week.

    Given the events over the past few days I’m sure we will see even further debate.

     
  3. Labour voter, 20. March 2019, 8:53

    I increasingly feel despair and sadness with the trashing by our council of the heritage Civic Centre. I worry how I will pay for the ever increasing Regional and City Council rates, body corporate levies and insurance. I feel impotent knowing that this Mayor and Councillors for a variety of structural reasons will be re-elected. I observe they don’t care enough to use their vote…to change priorities. And I ponder……what is happening to our city and who is it for? Not us?

     
  4. Manny, 20. March 2019, 10:26

    Agree with you on that one Labour Voter … whose costly agenda is it?

     
  5. Munny Pitt, 20. March 2019, 12:44

    There’s no way the council should be building new infrastructure (convention centre etc) when they can’t maintain and keep open their existing amenities. Is there any chance it would be possible when there are articles mentioning councillors votes for and against various items that the votes are listed at the end of the article. Especially in election year, so we know who to vote for. [Link to the DomPost report – it provides details of the vote.]

     
  6. Keith Flinders, 20. March 2019, 18:17

    To councillors, half a million dollars to study the proposal might seem a small amount, but it represents almost the entire rates intake from my street for 2018/19. Rates increases are now 50% greater than pension increases, house insurance costs are up 200% since 2012 for me, and more for some others.

     
  7. Northland, 20. March 2019, 19:46

    3.9% rates increases are not sustainable over the long term. 3.9% means a doubling of rates every 18 years. The Council must bite the bullet and rein in this spending so that Wellington can return to being an affordable city for everyone to live in.

     
  8. Casey, 20. March 2019, 21:36

    As a Wellington City resident if I add the extra 3.9% WCC content, plus the extra 16.5% GWRC content, to the rates I was paying 2018/2019, then the total increase will be 5.9%.

    What extra the 2018 revised CV sum will add on top of this I shudder to think.

    Time the cold winds of staff redundancies started flowing through both the WCC and GWRC, as they get rid of non essential activities.

     
  9. steve doole, 24. March 2019, 7:20

    I support rates increases.
    Aren’t comments opposing rates increases a bit one-eyed, as almost all home owners seem pleased when their houses increase in value through no fault of their own.
    For me and some others who believe fascination with property value means our kids not being able to work up deposits to purchase a house for themselves.
    As rates are like a form of tax on owning property, the higher the tax, the less attractive property should be. But many people are keen to buy more property than they need to occupy themselves. At present rates are too low to affect demand.

    I also support other property taxes.
    Airbnb hosts are making money from their property (and sometimes labour).
    Rental property should be charged full business rates.

    However council schemes should have public support.
    Central library seems to have a high number of users, which I call civic value.

     
  10. michael, 24. March 2019, 10:53

    Steve: The higher the rates the higher the rent. The higher the rates the harder it is for lower income people to afford it.

     
  11. Keith Flinders, 24. March 2019, 11:25

    Paper increases in home values don’t pay the bills, Steve. It is a matter of rates affordability no matter what income one is on, so does one sell one’s home when the rates become unaffordable to go and live in “a hole in the road” (citing Monty Python). Until one sells his/her property there is no real gain, but the replacement of like standard will have increased in paper value too.

    Rates are not a tax but instead provide funding for the services councils need to have to ensure a city functions along with the safety, health, and well being, of its citizens. Rates are taxed with the imposition of GST on them.

    Charging full business rates on rental properties, as you suggest, will only inflict more pain on those who are not able to get on the property owning market ladder, especially families with children. Airbnb hosts are likely aware that the IRD are watching their activities too.

    Rates based on property values are a blunt instrument as they do not take into account the level of income of the payer. For example a widowed person reliant on the General Retirement Income now pays out over 10% of it if living in a dwelling of the average Capital Value. What he/she goes without to pay the rates leads to higher social costs, in some cases.