Rangitikei District faces massive challenges. Some parallel those of many other rural areas; others are unique.
Over the past three years the council has embarked on a much-needed overhaul of the district's ageing infrastructure - but not without controversy. Rates have gone up and district-wide rating has been adopted in an attempt to even the playing field for the district's towns. One of the last councils in the country to be debt free, RDC has also planned to take on $30 million in debt over the next decade to help fund these major projects and spread the cost over future generations.
It has caused much anxiety and strained relationships between the council and some of its ratepayers, discontent being voiced regularly.
Petitions often do the rounds in Rangitikei. Rates, the Bulls Service Centre merger, amalgamation and the proposed scrapping of community boards are just some of the issues to stir people into action.
It shows Rangitikei people are politically engaged and will serve to remind candidates who they work for.
These issues will test the district's four mayoral candidates and the public will be pleased to see a contest of ideas after Chalky Leary won a second term unchallenged in 2010.
Marton's Andy Watson and Mangaweka's Richard Aslett and Maree Brannigan all present as challengers with the necessary experience and knowledge to take the chains. A recent mayoral candidates public meeting in Marton showed little to separate the four.
It would be easy for any one of the challengers to campaign on bringing rates down dramatically, pandering to the voters' No 1 concern but to their credit all have been realistic in saying dramatic drops are unlikely.
The challengers have said, however, that ways to create small savings should be explored along with prioritising jobs.
"Let's be real and not make any false promises," Mr Aslett said. "Rates coming down are highly unlikely, unless residents are prepared to take cuts to council's level of service."
Mr Watson wants to restore finance committees and introduce dummy rates demands before council authorised work.
Ms Brannigan has said the council needs to do a better job of showing ratepayers what they are getting for their rates.
The incumbent Mr Leary has been the biggest defender of RDC's current rating levels and is confident the council is doing all it can.
He said he would continue to lobby central government to cut compliance costs for councils, which is where he lays a large portion of blame for high rates.
The new council will face a juggling act over the next three years. It needs to keep the district progressing and getting the necessary work done while keeping it affordable and getting the public on its side.
The district's biggest ward, Marton, has 12 people vying for four seats meaning change is likely. The list includes known community names and offers voters plenty of choice. Incumbents Mike Jones, Andy Watson, Lynne Sheridan and Richard Peirce are up against Hamish Allan, Cath Ash, Nigel Belsham, Kerry Brown, Graham Karatau, Neil Oldfield, Sally Stantiall and Hamish White.
Bulls' two councillors Sarah Harris and Michelle Fox are stepping aside which means Bret Coleman, Tim Harris and Rebecca McNeil will battle it out for the two spots.
In Taihape, Ruth Rainey and Taihape Community Board chairman Angus Gordon have put their names in the mix against the sitting Richard Aslett, Jan Byford and Ed Cherry. However, Turakina's Soraya Peke-Mason and Hunterville's Dean McManaway will claim their seats uncontested.
It is shaping up as an intriguing poll and changes are likely around the council table come October.
A meet the candidates evening for the Bulls Ward is being held tonight at 7pm at the Bulls RSA, and for the Marton Ward at the Club Hotel in Marton on September 17 from 5.30pm.
- © Fairfax NZ News
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