A constant theme of unrest over District Rating Policy has been the decreasing recognition of providing equitable treatment to our various lakeside communities which for the most part are characterised by less public facilities, amenities and overall infrastructure, and at the same time have limited access to such facilities and amenities in the city due to travel distance, lack of transport options and related socio-economics. The gradual loss of rating differentials for rural residents has been generally regarded as unfair and inequitable. Although some relief has been gained through the equalisation of urban/rural operational charges for water, wastewater and refuse, this has been more than offset by the significant burden on individual property owners of capital costs related to current or impending installation of reticulated sewerage schemes. Our protests have been increasingly countered by Rotorua Lakes Council (RLC) with views generally to the effect that all residents within the District (now) have reasonable access to available services and should therefore be treated equally in determining rates and rating policy. .
Our view all along has been that there is general acknowledgement around rates being largely based on taxation principles which underpins the need to also provide greater relief for those groups within the community who are deemed to have less ability to pay. And most of us are happy to pay a fair share towards the costs required to meet essential maintenance along with improvements to infrastructure and amenities that have significant community support. Nevertheless, we believe that convincing evidence remains to justify some measure of rating equitability to reflect the overall disparities experienced by most of our lakes and rural residents. Any assertion that all rural residents have similar access to services along with equivalent benefits is difficult to accept. .
Furthermore, reticulated sewerage schemes (mainly in lakes communities) have been implemented largely to address rapidly declining water quality in our lakes, an issue of major concern amongst all district residents especially over the past 20 years. Currently, RLC provides a District-wide subsidy of $1,500 per new scheme connection towards improvement to lakes water quality. This amounts to <5% of the total capital cost of existing and impending small schemes and is recovered via the Lakes Enhancement Targeted Rate. Whilst the (significantly larger) grants and subsidies provided by central and regional government are acknowledged, we believe that greater local subsidisation of capital costs should be provided, given the apparent economic benefits and ecological importance of providing sewerage reticulation across the District. On principle, this concept should be applied particularly to current and future schemes including the Rotoma/East Rotoiti project, a notion enhanced greatly due to the considerable effect of inflationary costs in materials and services over more recent years. .
An undertaking was made during the (2018-28) Long Term Plan process to carry out a review later in the year. A pre-review phase commenced in August 2018 which involved arrangement of meetings with a wide variety of community ‘Focus Groups’ as a means of assisting Council and elected members in gaining an understanding of various issues, challenges and perceived unfairness created by the present regime. Several elected member forums were held to discuss and agree upon the principles of a good rating framework and assess the feedback from the Focus Groups in developing a possible proposal for wider public consultation. From this, four distinct pieces of future work were identified as ongoing components of the rating review. .
a) to reduce the UAGC over time to maintain/reduce level of impact of additional fixed charges.
b) to commence enforcement of the current short term accommodation rules and undertake further engagement with the sector to review the rules.
c) to commence research and engagement around rating of Māori freehold land and bring back to Council the next steps required.
d) to develop, produce and launch an education/awareness collateral aimed at the community being well informed and understanding of the rating framework.
A decision to pursue a formal review is likely to be made as part of the next Long Term Plan process in 2021. In the meantime, we continue to seek further consideration of the ongoing issues of concern expressed by lakes ratepayers.