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Powering up well-beings could power up costs

Federated Farmers is concerned the call on councils to "power up" the four well-beings re-introduced into local government legislation will pile on more costs for ratepayers.

"Councils up and down the country have lost the battle to keep rates increases in touch with inflation, and debt levels are soaring. Many can’t keep up with the costs of activities and infrastructure maintenance/replacement that most residents would count as core - water, stormwater, flood protection, local roads, rubbish and recycling collection," Feds President and local government spokesperson Katie Milne says.

"Yet Local Government Minister Nanaia Mahuta has just exhorted councils to power up ways communities can realise their ambitions for social, economic, environmental and cultural priorities."

The Minister wants to increase local government’s role in the design and targeting of public services provided by central government; more innovative community participation; more meaningful relationships with Maori; and prioritisation of community wellbeing driven by robust data.

"These may well be useful things, but are they priorities for the ratepayers who foot the ever-increasing bills? Federated Farmers is really concerned this will spur councils into new activities and spending," Milne said.

"This would be particularly rough for cash-strapped rural councils and their ratepayers struggling already with a bow-wave of compliance and meeting news standards for infrastructure and drinking water quality."

Federated Farmers also questions whether the property-value based rating system that councils are forced to rely on is a fair way of trying to apportion ‘four well-beings’ costs.

"And will the government match its words and ambitions with cash? The Productivity Commission has just identified key areas where the existing funding model is ‘insufficient to address cost pressures’, including ‘the accumulation of responsibilities placed on local government by central government’."

These are valid topics for voters - both rural and urban - to questions candidates on in the lead-up to the elections in October, Milne said.

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