2.4% rates rise on the books for Lower Hutt

NICHOLAS BOYACK
Last updated 05:00 23/12/2013

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Hutt ratepayers can expect to pay more in 2014.

City politicians last week signalled a significant change to the council's financial strategy that is likely to result in a rates increase of 2.4 per cent and a lift in debt.

The move reflects a desire by Mayor Ray Wallace to make progress on several projects which have been on the books for many years.

Although the final list of projects to benefit from freeing up the purse strings will not become clear until the annual plan process begins, there are a number of obvious candidates. The Taita community centre/Walter Nash Stadium project, Fraser Park Sportsville, the proposed conference centre replacing the Town and Horticultural Halls, improvements to the Hutt Rec, and a pedestrian bridge on the top of Wainuiomata Hill will all be high on the list.

The current financial strategy limits rates increase to the consumer price index, which is currently 1.4 per cent. The debt target for 2020 is currently $50 million.

Councillors agreed to an additional one per cent rates increase for the next two years and a debt figure for 2020 of $90 million.

Mayor Wallace said the city had reached a crossroads and the council had to encourage growth if Lower Hutt was to keep up with the rest of the region.

"If we don't get involved in [investing] in the city, the city will start to go backwards and we don't want to see that happen."

Councillor Campbell Barry said the projected population growth for the city during the next 20 years is worrying.

The regional population is expected to grow by 15 per cent but for Hutt City the figure is two per cent.

"Clearly we need more growth to make Lower Hutt a more vibrant place to live."

Chris Milne was the only councillor to express doubts over a spend-up.

The conservative financial strategy has served the city "extremely well" for many years by forcing the council to concentrate on priority projects, he said.

Changing that will see councillors lobbying for their "pet projects" rather than those which can actually be justified.

Mr Milne said increasing borrowing would be a burden on ratepayers, who will have to pay the interest. He called on the council to look for assets to sell.

Mayor Wallace said deciding on which projects to fund would be part of the annual plan process. He was confident that only projects that will stimulate economic growth will be included.

Chief executive Tony Stallinger said that even with the higher debt levels proposed, Hutt City will still be paying the smallest percentage of its income on interest of any council in the region. For Hutt City the figure is 2.3 per cent, Upper Hutt is 4.8 per cent and Kapiti a whopping 14 per cent.

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- Hutt News

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