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Hide: Putting Ratepayers In Control Of Local Govt

Putting Ratepayers In Control Of Local Government

Rodney Hide
Thursday, 27 July 2006
Speeches - Local Government

Auckland's residential rates are set to rise 13.8% this year.

In the last three years Wellington City Council's rates take has increased by 20.5%, Christchurch City Council's by 19.4% and Hamilton City Council's by 15.2%.

The average increase in rates, across the country, is 7%.

People shouldn't have to dread the arrival of their council's rates demand.

First home buyers shouldn't have to factor in the cost of councils when calculating their mortgage repayments.

Families shouldn't have to go without, to fund council services they don't use and don't want.

Last week I was contacted by a pensioner in Plimmerton, who was told he should sell his house if he can't pay the rates.

His rates bill is around $2,800. It could cost this man his house.

By comparison, Helen Clark's rates bill this year will be around $1,600. We expect pensioners to pay almost twice as much as the Prime Minister.

No wonder people often struggle to pay their rates demand. It's getting harder and more expensive to keep local government satisfied.

People are worried that local government is out of control, and its cost just keeps rising.

My Bill to cap rates increases was debated in Parliament last night. MPs will vote on it next month.

This would limit rate increases to the level of inflation plus 2% in any one year, or by inflation plus 4% over any three years.

National, the Maori Party and United Future have promised me their support, and only New Zealand First's dissent threatens to stop the public from getting a chance to have their say.

Limiting the growth of local government works.

Sydney and London have legal limits to how quickly they can grow. So do many states in the United States.

Some councils here are already being responsible. Hutt City Council has a strategy to raise rates no more than half a percent above inflation.

But capping rates increases would give relief to families around the country - especially in places like Auckland, Tauranga, Ashburton, Franklin, Kapiti, Thames and Taupo.

The best thing is something it's hard to put a dollar value on - ratepayers will have greater control over local authorities and local government.

My Bill allows for exemptions to the cap for particular projects, if they have public support.

The infrastructure we need - systems for transport, waste and water - will still be built.

Councils will not need to cut funding for libraries, swimming pools or community services.

It's councillors' hobbyhorses, personal monuments and council junkets which would have to be cut back.

The upward spiral of rates is unsustainable. All families have to live within a budget - so should local government.

When Dick Hubbard ran for Auckland's mayoralty, he told the Gay Auckland Business Association that he was concerned about the impact rates increases had on his retired mother.

Thousands of pensioners in the same position as Mr Hubbard's mother will find their rates bills going up again this year.

We need to give councils the strength, the means and, where necessary, the direction to live within their budgets.

I do not claim that my Bill is perfect, and I am open to suggestions for how we can improve it.

But I believe it is important for ratepayers and Parliament to consider the impact of rising rates.

Sending my Bill to Select Committee would give the public an opportunity to discuss smarter alternatives for funding local developments.

Instead of councillors and a handful of interest groups controlling local government, ratepayers should hold the reins.

My Bill may not be perfect, but it's a start. Ratepayers deserve to be listened to, and I want them to have that chance.

It is time to let the people decide, and to put ratepayers back in control.


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