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Ratepayers angry over council debt- Whangarei

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  • Ratepayers angry over council debt- Whangarei

    Ratepayers angry over council debt

    By Mike Dinsdale
    Two low-income Whangarei ratepayers have a simple message for the district council - "stop making us pay for your mistakes". Ratepayers are facing an almost 100 percent rate increase over the next 10 years as the Whangarei District Council's debt soars.

    A budget blowout has seen the council's debt balloon from a budgeted $58 million to an estimated $80 million by the end of June. The debt is predicted to rise to $142 million by 2011.

    The council is looking at lifting rates by an average seven percent a year and increasing other charges to pay for the debt.

    Maraea Wharehinga and Chrissy McLoughlin pay rates and work with low income earners.

    And both are unhappy about the prospect of their rates doubling.
    "It sucks really, and the elderly and people like me on low incomes will suffer," Ms Wharehinga said.

    "It's okay for the mayor and councillors who can afford the rises. But for us to have to pay higher rates so they can get on top of their mistakes isn't on."

    She was worried that struggling families on low incomes could be pushed into financial trouble if their rates rose by so much.

    "All those families on low and fixed incomes already struggle to pay rates. If they have to juggle their money to pay more rates then I really worry for them."

    Ms McLoughlin helps find emergency housing for low income people and knows full well how unexpected increases in costs can affect people. She is also concerned about the effect the possible rates rise would have on rental costs, as landlords passed on the higher costs.

    Ms McLoughlin, who is on a low income, and her superannuitant husband pay $60 a month in rates.

    "That would rise to $120 a month and while it may not sound like a lot to some that's an awful lot to pay when you are getting minimum wages," Ms McLoughlin said.

    "Our incomes won't be rising anything like seven percent a year to pay for the extra rates. Surely there must be other ways of paying for this without hitting the ratepayers?"

    Whangarei Mayor Pamela Peters assured ratepayers the proper consultative process was being adhered to and any decision would be made in the fiscally responsible manner required of the council.

    But Ms McLoughlin is unconvinced.

    "She might say we can have our say, but will they listen to us? If they decide to put it up there's nothing we can do about it, and it wouldn't be the first time a council has ignored the wishes of the ratepayer," she said. The average rate in Whangarei is $764 per property, which would rise to $1283 by 2016 if the annual increases are implemented.

    Other charges, such as toilet pan charges and development charges, would also increase significantly. The amount collected by the council each year would rise from $28 million to $51 million over the 10-year period.

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