Tauranga City Council commission chair Anne Tolley is sympathising with those who may be impacted by increasing rates as part of the city’s Long-term Plan.
It comes after members of the Tauranga Ratepayers Alliance protested the rates increase, with steering group member Jordan Williams boldly insisting incompetent but elected politicians would be preferable to the current Commission.
The 2021-31 Long-term Plan has now been adopted by Council but hundreds of protesters, led by the TRA, gathered at Council buildings on Willow Street amid pouring rain.
They marched against rates increasing as high as 17 per cent residentially and 48 per cent commercially in the first year of the LTP.
Tolley, who thanks Council staff for their hard work over the past 18 months, appreciates that rates increase will be challenging for some.
“We are well aware that there is a section of the community here that are on fixed incomes so any increase in cost affects them quite seriously,” she says.
“We are well aware there are people who will find it difficult to pay an increase in anything.”
However, Tolley highlights raised house values, a simplification of some rates policies and ongoing discussions with Minister of Local Government Nanaia Mahuta about inflation adjustments to rates rebates systems, as potential avenues to ease concerns among heavily impacted members of the community.
She says upon arrival in Tauranga, herself and her team - Commissioners Bill Wasley, Stephen Selwood and Shadrach Rolleston - have found a city “overwhelmed by rapid growth”.
That growth has not been offset by steadily increasing rates is one Council argument, increases which are now needed to pay for crucial infrastructure such as roading, piping and community amenities.
“What we have tried to do is make everyone pay a bit more,” says Tolley.
“Commercial sector is paying a bit more, residents are paying a bit more and the development levies are going up. So everyone across the board is paying a bit more so we can get the infrastructure.”
Successful implementation of community projects is seen by Tolley as a way of showing residents Council is listening and that rates increases are delivering desired results.
Tauranga City Council commission chair Anne Tolley. Photo. John Borren.
“We turn on the water and we flush the toilet and we don’t think anything of it, but when you see stuff happening in the community that everyone has been talking about needing, then you feel like council is actually listening to you,” she explains.
“Hopefully, we see a bit more of that over the time we are here and that people have confidence that we made the right decisions.”
The TRA march was led by steering group members such as Williams, the executive director of the New Zealand Taxpayers’ Union, Dawn Kiddie and Andrew Hollis, the pair former elected Councillors before the Commission was implemented in February, among others.
Speaking at the Council meeting at which the LTP was formally adopted, Williams says he was witnessing “with sadness” the events in Tauranga.
Protestors entering the Council building. Photo. Mathew Nash.
He suggests democracy has been parked outside the Council buildings since the Commission was installed by Mahuta, following dysfunction amid elected Councillors and former Mayor Tenby Powell.
“The billboards around the town say that the councillors are listening but the message from the hundreds of people that have turned up in the pouring rain today would certainly suggest otherwise,” he says.
He highlighted what he called “elephants in the room” regarding the LTP and the Commissioners presence, pouring scorn on claims infrastructure is poor due to previously low rates, what he calls a looming “debt monster” and a perceived lack of democracy.
“Fundamentally, the people downstairs and protesting in front of council today, they want their city back,” he says.
“We want democracy back.
“We never said democracy picks the best people but we would much rather incompetent democratically elected politicians that we can kick out than incompetent unaccountable people that won’t even front to hundreds of people directly outside the council chambers today,” he concludes, to a ripple of applause from the 50 odd protestors who filled Council chambers’ public gallery.
Kiddie and Hollis meanwhile address the crowd still outside chambers. Chants of “Two, four, six, eight, we want fairer rates” and “tell the council one, two, three, we don't want your LTP" permeate, along with the niggling sound of vuvuzelas, which were audible from Council chambers.
Kiddie’s emotional message over a megaphone speaks of genuine concern for those closest to her, as she also thanks the protestors for braving the poor weather.
“We are here because we are a community,” she says. “Our friends, our whānau.
“Because at this rate, we are going to be rated out of our homes.
“I am here, not because I am a disgruntled councillor but because I pay rates, I pay taxes”.
Hollis also tows a line of rates when addressing the crowd.
“It is about fair rating,” he booms. “What we have got now is unfair rating and it is going to be for about 10 years,” he says.
“I don’t know how you feel about that but it annoys the crap out of me.”
Protestors express disquiet at the Commission’s presence in Tauranga. Photo. Mathew Nash.
Amid the protestors there are clearly two messages. The rates rise is one of them. To those on fixed income, such as pensioners, it could have a big impact.
“We are here because we object to maybe having to sell our house and pay these sky high rates,” says Tauranga resident Joan Gooch when asked why she is at the protest.
But the other clear concern regards democracy. For many, the decision to install the commission earlier this year still irks and there is a level of distrust aimed both locally and nationally.
“I am also very concerned about the lack of democracy now in this lovely city,” says Joan.
Another protestor, Chris Pattison, speaks similarly.
“Democracy should rule,” he says. “It should not be dictated. Especially from people who are overpaid and have no idea what it is like to have to budget week by week.”
Many of the signs and placards also make reference to the collapse of democracy, although some of the anti-communistic imagery, admittedly from a minority, seems out of place and detracts from serious concerns.
Tolley’s hope is to begin delivering on the LTP to show ratepayers are getting value for their increased rates expenditure. As for the protests, she concedes that developing a plan to take Tauranga forward was never going to find universal approval.
“You don’t expect to please everyone,” she admits.
“I’ve had a long time in politics and you never go out there thinking you are going to get a 100 per cent.
“There would be something wrong if everyone agrees actually because we don’t all think alike and we don’t all want the same things.”