Horizons taken to task for not putting rates up enough

Horizons Regional Council has been criticised by some submitters to its draft Annual Plan for not putting rates up enough.

The council is predicting an average rates rise of 4.5 per cent. While some submitters say this is unaffordable, several speaking at hearings next week want the council to do more work, and thus spend more money.

Palmerston North city councillor Chris Teo-Sherrell's submission calls for more money to protect slip-prone hill country, more spending on the Manawatu River and to reinstate cuts made in previous years from biodiversity budgets.

Teo-Sherrell said original targets for the Sustainable Land Use Initiative (SLUI) had already been extended from 2015 to 2020.

The SLUI programme involves protecting slip-prone land through fencing and planting. Planned as a response to the 2004 floods, it is jointly funded by Horizons and the Government.

"If central government isn't willing to grant any further assistance, then [council] should raise it locally. We, in this region, are the principal beneficiaries, so perhaps we need to put more into doing what is necessary.

"Perhaps [council] needs to ask, how much will it cost to achieve the targets and then collect that amount rather than just downgrading the targets."

He suggested increasing Manawatu River Accord funding at the rate of inflation.

Teo-Sherrell also called for some savings, such as placing more of the burden for resource consents on applicants.

During hearings on last year's Annual Plan, councillors voted to cut living heritage funding by $52,000, meaning the loss of one staff member.

Originally, councillors had sought to remove some $700,000 from its biodiversity budgets. The cuts were reversed after a backlash from submitters. This year regional councillor Rachel Keedwell tried to add $100,000 to the living heritage budgets but found support from only one other councillor.

Environment Network Manawatu's submission this year expressed disappointment that cuts to biodiversity funding last year were being carried into the new Annual Plan, a view shared by Teo-Sherrell.

It says that because of this, and earlier cuts, the original target of protecting 100 wetland areas and 200 bush remnants by 2017-18 had been delayed until 2022-23.

A submission from former regional councillor Jill White also called for more funding for living heritage.

"The living heritage aspect of Horizons work is of critical importance . . ." she said.

"When funds for living heritage-indigenous biodiversity are pushed to the back of the queue by the regional council, it seems that the wide range of values is not being recognised."

Manawatu Standard