THE cost of maintaining rivers and stopbanks are unfairly laden on Opotiki, Mayor John Forbes says. Photo James Sandbrook OB4559-09
  • Mayor concerned with regional council’s river-related costs

THE Opotiki District Council is pleading with the regional council not to flood it with river-related costs.

Opotiki Mayor John Forbes objects to the Bay of Plenty Regional Council’s proposed average rate increase of 6.5 per cent, which is up from the forecast rise of 5.3 per cent, and is asking the regional council to change its way of calculating urban river scheme rates.

Mr Forbes’ letter, dated April 6, was presented at the Opotiki council’s extraordinary meeting on Friday.

Mr Forbes said in comparison to the regional council’s overall budget, the river scheme costs were not large sums of money.

“However, when that cost is forced to be borne by a small number of residents in a highly-deprived area, those costs become unreasonable and unacceptable,” he said.

Mr Forbes said he understood the regional council had adopted a “user pays” approach to providing services, but the river scheme could not be considered “user pays”.

“This is not a service our residents can opt in for, or opt out of,” he said.

“The only way they could opt out is by moving away.

“But in the case of the river scheme, the majority of affected residents do not have the ability or financial mobility to move away and thus ‘opt out’.”

Mr Forbes said the river scheme should be funded differently because of the large areas of non-rateable land in the catchment and the utilities that benefited, but did not pay.

“We understand that this rating system had existed in a similar form as long as the river schemes have existed, but that doesn’t make it right,” he said.

In a graph provided by the regional council, the average annual rate for Opotiki is listed at $655, compared with $541 for Whakatane, $300 for the Western Bay and $213 for Kawerau.

Of the $655 paid in Opotiki, $479 is a targeted rate for the urban river scheme, which funds river and stopbank maintenance.

The graph also shows the draft 2019-20 annual plan estimate for the median property in Opotiki having an overall rate of $744, of which $553 is the river scheme rate.

Mr Forbes said the way the regional council’s rating system worked resulted in some of the poorest and most deprived residents in the region being faced with the highest rates.

“Those struggling the most, often do not voice their views on such matters,” he said.

Mr Forbes said he was once again imploring elected members to reconsider the way the rating system worked regarding the urban river scheme.

“The Local Government Act requires local authorities to manage their finances in a manner that promotes the current and future interests in the community,” he said.

“It is our view that the regional council is failing in this respect.”

Mr Forbes said the Opotiki council also wanted to submit in relation to decisions being made about how the regional council addressed climate change in the future.

sven.carlsson@thebeacon.co.nz