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Rates going up by 4.95% or 2.15%? Wgtn city councillors can’t decide (but there’ll be a rates holiday)

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Report from RNZ by Hamish Cardwell
Wellington city councillors have voted to allow some residents a six months rates holiday. In an extraordinary council meeting this afternoon over online video conferencing, councillors agreed to let some businesses and residents apply to defer their June rate payment to the end of the year.

It won’t apply to property owned or occupied by central government agencies, and for businesses to qualify they will have to have successfully applied for Covid-19 related support from the government.

There will be rent relief for council tenants, and hospitality businesses will be charged only a nominal fee for inspections and alcohol licences.

Councillors voted for officials to prepare a draft annual plan with the option of a 4.95 percent rates increase or 2.15 percent to go for public consultation.

The council expects to lose about $70m because of loss of revenue due to Covid-19.

Before the pandemic, the council had intended to boost rates 7 percent each year for the next four years.

Mayor Andy Foster said the council needed to weigh up looking after the community by not hiking rates, while not lowering them so much as to cripple the council financially and hollow out the services it could provide.

Councillors voted to support an amendment from Dr Jenny Condie to start charging for parking and enforcing fines two weeks after the city returned to Covid-19 alert level three. The council’s pandemic plan had initially proposed keeping free parking in place in the city until the end of June.

Up to $1 million raised from parking – topped up with an additional $500,000 – is to be allocated in community grants.

Councillors agreed to establish a city recovery fund of about $8m from its existing budget to support initiatives that will drive economic recovery after Covid-19, and set up an advisory panel for the council, businesses and government agencies to work together on recovery issues.

News from WCC
The Wellington City Council today voted to recommend consultation on a 4.95% rates increase for the 2020/21 financial year. The vote was at a City Council meeting held via video-conference to agree on the next steps in the development of the 2020/21 draft Annual Plan, and on an initial Pandemic Response Plan (PRP). The Council also agreed that staff detail the implications of a possible 2.15% rates increase.

Mayor Andy Foster told the meeting the Covid-19 pandemic and lockdown is having a dramatic effect on the economy and the community.

He added the Council is also a business – and that revenue from the likes of parking and pools has disappeared in the short term. The Council is looking at a deficit of almost $70 million and the chance of a dividend from the Council’s share in the airport company in the next two years “is slim”.

The meeting endorsed the PRP which, via a range of deferrals and freezing of charges, aims to soften the effects of the pandemic economic impact on businesses in particular.

Mayor Foster said the pandemic and its aftermath are likely to bring significant changes to the city’s economy. “Even just the fact that many people have taken to the advantages of working from home means the dynamics of the CBD may change markedly. Our CBD is the heart of the region – we have to work hard to get the heart pumping again.”

Mayor Foster said the proposed 4.95% rates increase will still require the Council to borrow to fund the forecast $68 million in lost revenue due to Covid-19 . Without this borrowing, rates would need to be a lot higher.

The 2.15% option would also require the Council to debt-fund some depreciation – which would decrease the amount of rates funding for infrastructure asset replacement and result in higher rates increases in future years.

As a result of today’s meeting, Council officers will prepare documents that will aim to inform public consultation on the proposals. The documents will be discussed at a further meeting on 30 April and then be subject to public consultation in May.

Earlier: rates down from 9.2% to 4.8%
Hutt City Council: rates increase cut from 7.9% to 3.8%
Upper Hutt City Council: rates increase cut from 4.6% to 1.5%
Nelson City Council: councillors unanimous on a zero rates increase
Manawatu considering zero rates increase

16 comments:

  1. Rebecca Matthews, 9. April 2020, 22:47

    Proud of changes we made today to make our Wgtn CC pandemic response plan greener & fairer! Also to put a lower rates option out to the community. Thanks to everyone who shared their thoughts before we met & helped us all make better decisions & to all our staff for yr hard work. [via twitter]

     
  2. Dr Jenny Condie, 9. April 2020, 22:48

    “Free” parking is really expensive. By returning to normal parking charges as soon as enforcement officers are able to work we can afford an extra $1 million for community grants and will have to borrow $4 million less. More money for those in need and fiscally responsible. [via twitter]

     
  3. Fleur Fitzsimons, 9. April 2020, 22:53

    So many Wellingtonians have said to me they want to see Council help groups taking care of our poor & vulnerable residents; just thrilled we got $1.5 million more for community groups in our pandemic plan today. Thanks to the 9 other councillors who voted for this! This will help feed, clothe and house residents and it will help keep important sexual and family violence services running. This was a real team effort and great to have support from across political spectrum too. Way better than a bit of free parking imho! [via twitter]

     
  4. Peter S, 10. April 2020, 0:31

    Good to see councillors commenting on their meeting where they can congratulate themselves. Nice! But, how about commenting on the article about the convention centre. Please tell us why we still need it, and that it’s not going to be a millstone around our necks for generations to come. We especially want to hear from those who voted for it. Including you Andy. [We have invited councillors to comment on the convention centre article. No one has responded so far.]

     
  5. michael, 10. April 2020, 0:37

    Rebecca Matthews, since you say that councillors are listening to everyone who shared their thoughts and helped you all make better decisions, is it not time the council listen to the public outcry about continuing with the $200million convention centre which is more than likely to become a white elephant. Canning this vanity project would cover the council shortfall and a lot more.

     
  6. Over it., 10. April 2020, 6:57

    And after a tsunami alert, would you also consult to decide whether to turn left or right?

     
  7. Andrew, 10. April 2020, 8:38

    We vote and pay for these guys to run the city but all they seem to be able to to is dither and consult. Dither, that is, about some things – in others they are steadfastly going against the opinions of those who have to pay for their grandiose money-eating vanity projects. Cancel them. Then you can comment all you like about how well you’re managing this crisis.

     
  8. Casey, 10. April 2020, 9:30

    Now that several WCC councillors see that organisation as a parallel social welfare agency, which will grow expediently if left unchecked, it will become yet another burden on ratepayers.

    Central government working with NGOs are providing such needed services already and are better placed to do so.

     
  9. michael, 10. April 2020, 11:17

    Fleur Fitzsimons: How come councillors cannot recognise that, before they help anyone else, they must help the ratepayers first. We are all suffering and many may be forced to sell their homes after this is over. All very well to pat yourselves on the back as social engineers but nothing is sustainable when your source of income is compromised. Please go back to basics and stop your spending spree on unnecessary work until everything has recovered. You say you are listening, I say only when it suits the WCC.

     
  10. James, 10. April 2020, 11:26

    I read the papers for that council meeting about the possible rates increase. There was no discussion about what major projects could be cut back to help meet the shortfall, just general shroud-waving about cuts to services. We need to see some real figures before we can tell whether councillors are taking this seriously – maybe that will come in the planning documents.

     
  11. Sean Rush, Eastern Ward Councillor, 10. April 2020, 11:58

    This was a package I was proud to support – not because it is ‘progressive’ or ‘green’ but because it struck a fair balance between fiscal discipline and the basic kiwi value of helping each other when times are tough.

    In these times, I am not left or right, green, red or blue. I’m black and yellow – I’m a Wellingtonian. We’re all in this together folks!

     
  12. TrevorH, 10. April 2020, 16:59

    I find the self congratulatory attitude of these councillors insufferable. They are ignoring the big issues like the fiscally irresponsible convention centre and indulging their own sense of noblesse oblige with our money.

     
  13. Northland, 10. April 2020, 23:34

    When will the Wellington City Council work out that it cannot go on spending ever-increasing amounts of money when the Wellington economy is set to contract severely. At some point reality is going to hit the Council. Better hope it is sooner rather than later. The Nelson City Council seem to have the right idea.

     
  14. michael, 10. April 2020, 23:35

    We may be all “in this together folks” but a great many Wellingtonians are not in it “as together” as others. Councillors and staff are acting as though it is business as usual by continuing with a $200 million vanity project, while raising rates to pay for the anticipated council shortfall of $68million.
    Councillors Fitzsimons, Condie and Matthews: instead of focussing on $1.5 & $4 million here and there, please respond to the many comments and questions and explain how you can justify spending $200 million on a convention centre and raising rates, while New Zealand and the world is in crisis facing a massive recession.
    Trevor I agree. The attitude of councillors congratulating themselves while most of us are suffering and appealing for fiscal responsibility is intolerable.

     
  15. Keith Flinders, 11. April 2020, 10:50

    So we are meant to be impressed that councillors voted themselves a “pay cut” by means of a donation to charity. How many of them will, on their next tax return, claim this donation and get the tax offset back ? In these uncertain times a 20% actual pay cut would have been appropriate.

    Sean Rush preaches fiscal discipline without, it seems, understanding the what the term means. Fiscal discipline means to most, especially those on low and fixed incomes, not spending more than they have or can earn.

    What we need to see happen here are the three Rs:
    Rates freeze;
    Redundancy by eliminating non core roles and there are lots of them;
    Responsibility as in not spending on things we don’t need. The convention centre for a start.

     
  16. Roadie, 11. April 2020, 10:51

    We too would have liked to listen to the meeting but could find no link to it on the council website. Please explain how we can get organised to do this for the next meeting. Thank you. [The council says the meetings are carried on its youtube page. Give it a try.]