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Rates affordability a big issue in Central Otago

The Central App

Aimee Wilson

06 June 2024, 5:30 PM

Rates affordability a big issue in Central OtagoSubmitters have been questioning whether Central Otago is an affordable place to live anymore. PHOTO: File

Pensioners will be forced out of their homes and young families will sell up and move elsewhere.  

Rates increases are front and centre in many people’s minds, and those were just some of the comments amongst the 149 submissions that the Central Otago District Council (CODC) had to consider as part of its Annual Plan yesterday.

Retired farmer and former Otago Regional Council Gerry Eckhoff started the day’s proceedings by stating that local government appeared to have taken on a life of its own, “with its own perception of what the public really needs.”

Believing the council had become increasingly independent of its community, he asked the CODC to  “reflect the problems of society, not add to them in financial terms.”

Gerry said rates affordability was at the stage where people could no longer afford either the CODC or local government as it exists - something he had taken up further with ministers.

Asking for an independent review of council expenditure, “to give us some confidence about what is happening out there,” he was questioned by Cr Tamah Alley about who should pay for that? 

“I don’t want to see marches in the street or mortgagee sales but where does it end?” he said.

Cr Alley pointed out that council was already independently audited and when Mayor Tim Cadogan asked him to guess how much that audit cost, Gerry started to talk about life being full of trade-offs.

Chief executive Peter Kelly confirmed the amount was $180,000.

Grey Power Central Otago president Stan Randle spoke about the struggles that elderly had with understanding all of the business administration that came from council - including the plans for consultation that were often hundreds of pages long.

“You are not looking at your audience with who you are communicating with,” he said, further adding that was why voter turnout was also low at election time.

With regard to housing, he outlined how Central Otago historically had a basic standard that everyone could afford, but that was no longer the case.

Over 50 comments in the Annual Plan process related to rates increases, but Mayor Cadogan said unless anyone had a great idea on how they could cut costs better, the increase would remain around 18.5 per cent.

He said they could look at the option of staggering the rates increase, as some other councils had done, but as costs continued to rise, it wasn’t going to change anything next year.

“We could underfund depreciation and kick the can down the road,” but as Deputy Mayor Neil Gillespie said, that was pushing the responsibility onto others down the road “and that’s not how we do things in this council.”

The Annual Plan and final decision on rates will be made at the council’s next meeting on June 26.