Rates cap comes at a price

A radical rates cap in New Plymouth will lead to closures and drastic changes despite cries from councillors that the warnings are scaremongering.

Libraries will be axed, a community swimming pool will close and pensioners will lose their free morning parking if the New Plymouth Council plan, revealed yesterday, goes ahead.

Last month, the new guard of the council voted for an average 3 per cent cap on rate rises over the next decade, despite warnings from council chief executive Barbara McKerrow that it would potentially result in the closure of swimming pools and library services, the axing of the Festival of Lights, and the gates of Brooklands Zoo being slammed shut.

The proposal was met with public outcry but the first-term councillors dismissed McKerrow's claims as scaremongering.

However, this latest report proves that while $40 million can be saved in-house, another $40m is needed and closures will have to happen if the rates rise is to be set at what councillors proposed.

While no decisions have been made, councillors have been given an itemised list of each service cut needed.

On the chopping block is the Bell Block Library, the Fitzroy Swimming Pool, the Mobile Library bus, and up to $1.3m in roading, parks and water budgets.

Funding to the region's economic development organisation, Venture Taranaki, would be cut by close to half a million dollars a year, $400,000 of community funding would be stopped and $100,000 would be taken annually from the mayor's events fund.

Ratepayers will also be hit in the pocket as fees for parking and swimming pools are set to be hiked up, while the Govett-Brewster Art Gallery would have to gather nearly $200,000 a year in entrance fees.

Older people in the district would feel the pinch as well as there would be no more free morning parking or subsidies for Super Gold Card holders and rents for housing for the elderly would be increased.

Mayor Andrew Judd said he had recommended a 3.5 to 3.9 per cent average increase but by a narrow 7-6 majority the councillors voted against this, meaning there had to be further savings of about $40m over the 10 years.

"To find a further $40m of budget reductions, to get us to a 3 per cent average, was always going to involve some really tough calls and this is demonstrated by the range of options before us," Judd said.

"It's important to emphasise that no decisions have been made.

"That won't happen for six months and in the meantime there will be ample opportunity for the community to provide feedback."

On Tuesday at 2pm councillors will meet to vote on what closures and funding cuts to consult the public on.

If councillors choose to keep the services, rate rises will not be able to be set at the proposed 3 per cent cap.

Councillors were previously told not all major service cuts would happen if rates rises were set at an average of 3.9 per cent for the next decade, which was said to be about $1 extra per week.

 - Taranaki Daily News

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