3.26pc rate rise 'to invest in community'

CATHIE BELL
Last updated 08:58 10/06/2014

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The final proposed rate increase is 3.26 per cent, up from the initial 2.95 per cent proposed in the draft annual plan, the Marlborough District Council decided yesterday.

Councillors also decided unanimously to withdraw a proposal to move the Karaka Point settlement from the Picton Vicinity geographic rating area to the Picton one.

Marlborough Mayor Alistair Sowman said the council needed the flexibility to alter rating areas, but he understood the concerns of the Karaka Point residents.

Residents said the proposed increases would double their rates and for no extra services, when similar areas were not being targeted.

They could not understand the council's reasoning.

Sowman said the change would not get extra revenue for the council, but was done because of fairness and equity.

He suggested withdrawing it and looking at the wider issues as part of next year's long-term plan and a review of all geographic areas, which today's community and finance committee would discuss.

That was unanimously supported by councillors.

Sowman said the council was mindful that rates increases needed to be kept in check and that many people were on fixed incomes, but it was time to invest in the community.

Mayors around the country said provincial New Zealand needed to stand up, he said.

"There is life beyond Auckland and below the Bombay Hills."

One such project councillors agreed to fund yesterday was the Marlborough Migrant Centre.

Councillors approved an extra $5000 to the centre, bringing its grant up to $15,000 in recognition of the vital work it did in Marlborough. However, they were disappointed that the Government would not commit to fund the centre properly.

Sowman said it was "an absolute disgrace" the Government did not fund the centre, when it was set up under a Government programme to settle migrants into provincial areas. Just in the past months, 10 Pacific Island families had come here as part of a migration quota with no support network other than the centre.

"They have a job and a suitcase and somewhere to lay their heads and that's about it."

Councillor Laressa Shenfield said she was "shocked" the Government wasn't stepping up.

Councillor Peter Jerram said the amount the centre wanted was a "piffling . . . barely worth discussing", but the Government wouldn't back a vital need.

"The Government is encouraging migration to this country and then cutting them adrift when they get here.

This year's annual plan was his tenth, Sowman said.

"It's been quite a journey. We've had very buoyant times when the council did a lot, and been through the global financial crisis, which capped a lot. Prudent was the word we used then."

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About 90 per cent of the council's budget was on infrastructure such as roads, sewerage and stormwater, with only the remaining amount for additional projects.

However, social infrastructure was as important for the community as the other infrastructure, Sowman said.

"There takes a lot more than roads, water, and sewerage to have a growing community."

In many cases, the council was the last port of call for people in need, he said.

"Many projects in this province wouldn't be done without council intervention."

- The Marlborough Express

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