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Low Submissions On Proposed 27% Rates Hike

Just 25 submissions have been made on the West Coast Regional Council's proposal to increase general rates by an average of 27% - one of the highest increases in the country.

Submissions closed on Friday [May 10] for the West Coast Regional Council's Long Term Plan 2024-34.

Of submissions received, just six have indicated they wish to have speaking time at a hearing set for [Tuesday] May 21.

Council chief executive Darryl Lew said the numbers were in line with previous years.

"The advice from long serving staff is that is what we'd expect," Mr Lew said on May 14.

However, he believed a good level of community engagement sits above the submission numbers at present.

Turnouts to the current annual round of meetings for the 23 special rating districts, administered by council across the region for flood hazard protection, was high, Mr Lew said.

Special rating districts are areas which administer river and flood protection assets on behalf of local areas to reduce the risk of river and coastal inundation.

"Of all the regional councils across this country our targeted rate flood schemes reach 75% of all people and land parcels on the Coast -- which is the highest number of any council I know."

Mr Lew said that flood hazard and river protection aspect of council largely dominated their ongoing interaction with communities.

"We're getting largely positive engagement at all of our rating district meetings … I'd like to think that is a big vote of confidence in quality interaction with these people because those rating schemes feed into the LTP."

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Mr Lew said while there may be some confusion at times about the regional council's gambit, he believed West Coasters largely connected council in providing community resilience via maintenance and improvement of hazard protection assets.

That link went back to the former Catchment Boards which had been succeeded by the regional councils in 1989.

However, in view of the low submission numbers, council had reduced the two-day hearing to one, Mr Lew said.

The proposed plan outlines an average 27% rates increase in year one, with borrowing to smooth out the impact of a proposed 20.8% increase in the budget to $25.2m in 2024-25.

The other option proposed but not preferred by council was a flat 44% increase without taking on more debt.

Council's preferred 27% option will also use debt to fund operational costs so it does not rely entirely on the rates take for the next three years.

However, ratepayers within the region's 23 special rating districts will pay above their individual general rates increase depending on the budget for their individual special rating district.

In 2024-25 Westport's new special rating district levy represents a 539% bump in year one of the LTP.

This reflects the start of paying their co-funding share under the $22.9million resilience scheme planned for the flood ravaged town.

During council's Risk and Assurance Committee on May 14, Cr Peter Haddock said the two days originally set for a hearing was in anticipation of the "potentially contentious" 27% rates increase.

Committee chairman Frank Dooley said his sums for Buller, excluding the Westport flood protection levy, suggested a total general rates increase much lower, of 12.2%.

"That's pretty darn good. When you add flood protection, that is a different matter, but that is a matter we are consulting on -- that is an insurance policy," Cr Dooley said.

However, acting corporate services manager Aaron Prendergast said the average increase overall would still be somewhat higher.

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