Village people left short on their dough

The Village People came to Tuesday's policy committee meeting in the New Plymouth District Council but didn't have much to sing and dance about.

The Village People, in this instance, were not the ageing pop stars of YMCA fame. They were representatives of the retirement villages who wanted the council to right a wrong.

At a time when we have an increasingly ageing population, more of our mature citizens are opting to live in retirement villages. It's an attractive lifestyle, but the trouble is by the terms of their "licence to occupy", they are ineligible to collect the government-funded $500 annual rates rebate.

Instead, they pay their share of the rates to the village operators, and a deputation had previously asked the council to look into solving the inequity. While there was much sympathy for an age group that actively votes, most councillors thought it was a central government problem and the village people should be talking to them. Being the caring, sharing folk that councillors are, however, in the best traditions of politicians the world over, they asked for council officers to prepare a report on the situation for them to mull over.

On Tuesday night a comprehensive report of 24 pages was produced by the council's business service group. The upshot of it all was that this was something the village people should take up with the Government.

There was some sympathy for their plight, and the recommendation even included a sop for those living in "near ownership" to be able to be included in an extended "Remission Policy for Extreme Hardship".

Maurice Betts had a problem with that. "What on earth is near ownership? It could mean anything." It was a question many were thinking. Presumably it didn't mean living near someone who owned their house. It was meant to create a new group of people who nearly owned their house, or something like that.

In the end it was watered down a tad more (the words to be considered were added), and the final decision at the full council meeting later this month is expected to concur that this is indeed a central government issue.

It was that sort of a meeting in many ways. Nothing much was decided, although there were some potentially meaty items up for debate.

One was a progress update on the Implementation of Memorandum of Understanding on Significant Natural Areas [SNA]. Now if that sounds like a bit of a mouthful, that's only because it is. That, however, is part of the expertise of the skilled bureaucrat.

The more important an issue is, the longer, more impenetrable and obscure the title is, the less chance there is that the elected representatives will want to put their two cents in.

Unfortunately, two of the vested interest groups, Federated Farmers and Royal Forest and Bird, turned up to have their say on the matter. Needless to say they are on opposite sides of the fence on this one. But this is something every rural landowner in the country should be interested in - preferably before some of the land they own is declared to be a SNA and they lose control over it.

Ratepayers also have a compelling reason to be interested in SNAs because they come with a hefty price tag. We have something like 300 of them identified - so far - and each one costs us about $1000. So to do the maths. - we've already spent $300,000 and there's lots more to go. After devoting a fair amount of time on the issue, without solving anything, a further report will be tabled by the officers as their work progresses.

A review on the commercial events held on council-administered parks and reserves policy was more in the same vein. It was really the start of the process and a report on the subject was declared to be "very easy to read" by Cr Shaun Biesiek. This insight into the issue was overtaken by the musings of "Sir Lancelot" Girling-Butcher, who idly wondered if organisers of some big events, such as the Taranaki Daily News half marathon, could be charged for using the council parks. There was no great desire to take that further, at this stage, but presumably that concept does not extend to the yet-to-be-built Len Lye Centre. This, too, is to go out to public consultation.

It was that sort of a meeting.

One reason was Cr Horse McLeod was quiet for much of the meeting. In fact his colourful shirt was louder than him and his most acerbic observation was that council was tying itself up in process by having so many reports going from one officer to another and back again. His criticism was gleefully dismissed. At the end of the meeting Head Monitor Heather Dodunski was clearly feeling the festive spirit.

"It was a very relaxed meeting, must be the last one for the year," she said with a big smile. I wish members of the press and public a very Merry Christmas and Happy New Year."

It was a lovely moment and one to savour for both of us press bods and Grey Power council watcher Keith Allum, who made up the public.

The savouring had to be done pretty quickly, because in the next breath Mrs Dodunski moved from the chair that the public be excluded from the rest of the meeting and we were soon on our way.

Taranaki Daily News