Rates revolt in Waipa
The congenial face of Waipa revealed a snarl on Saturday as hundreds of residents gathered in Te Awamutu's town centre to protest against rates hikes.
An estimated 600 to 700 people marched on the Waipa District Council's offices to protest against the council's rates bill.
Many in the vocal gathering waved hand-written placards and signs, while march co-organiser Robin Duncan opted for a megaphone to get her message across.
Waipa residents face an average rate increase of 4.3 per cent, while some ratepayers face hikes of more than 20 per cent.
Ms Duncan, of Te Awamutu, said the large turnout of disgruntled residents was no surprise.
"If we had got one or two thousand people turn up I wouldn't have been surprised because that's how angry Waipa people are feeling at the moment," she told the Waikato Times.
She said the council's perceived "frivolous" spending, such as the $1 million grant to the Home of Cycling Trust, had brought residents to the brink of revolt.
"I'm not a political beast by any stretch of the imagination but everywhere you go people are frustrated with the council and especially the velodrome. We seem to have a group of councillors who are working to their own agenda and are totally unaware of the recession and the need for austerity."
Ms Duncan had gathered about 1500 signatures on a petition demanding the council overturn its rates package and would present it to Waipa Mayor Alan Livingston next week.
"We've given the mayor a month to come up with the necessary changes which we hope will include cutting back any idealistic, unrealistic council spending.
"I really feel sorry for elderly residents and people on a fixed income.
"One man told me his rent will be going up $20 a week to cover the rates increase and that's going to force him out of his home."
Mr Livingston was on hand to talk to the protesters, whom he said numbered 200, and he sympathised with rural residential ratepayers who had worn the brunt of the rates hike.
A revaluation of Waipa properties resulted in rural residential property values decreasing but not to the same extent as other Waipa properties.
Mr Livingston said there were always going to be disgruntled ratepayers "to some extent" but the council always tried to be transparent in its decision-making and to explain how every ratepayers' dollar was spent.
"I stayed back afterward to talk to people and there were a lot of issues raised by people other than rates.
"I suspect a lot of people took the opportunity to vent their concern and frustration with council in general."
Te Awamutu resident Ken George joined Saturday's march and said there was a widespread belief the council was out of touch with public opinion.
"Waipa residents are pretty conservative people but we've had enough," Mr George said.
"The council was repeatedly told ratepayers didn't want to fund the velodrome but a $1m grant was still pushed through.
"What we are demanding is an immediate stop to discretionary spending and a reduction in council borrowing. We also want Waipa's complex rating system overhauled and made more transparent and understandable."