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Carterton Councillors Have Heated Debate On Rates Rises

Tensions remained high around the council table yesterday [Wednesday] as elected members in Carterton continued Long-Term Plan [LTP] deliberations with numerous points of order made throughout.

At different parts of the meeting, councillor Grace Ayling put forward motions to remove the chair of the meeting, cap staffing levels, instate a hiring freeze, and pause deliberations while advice was sought regarding the legality of the LTP consultation.

These motions failed to win the majority support of council.

Councillors spent several hours yesterday [Wednesday] discussing items for inclusion in the LTP, with most of the time dedicated to debating staffing levels, operational expenditure, de-sludging wastewater ponds, and levels of service.

At the core of these discussions was the desire to reduce the rates rise impact on the community.

Committee chair Robyn Cherry-Campbell said it was “quite healthy to have disagreements” around the council table but stressed that members needed to be respectful of each other.

She said councillors were a team and needed to own the decisions that were being made on behalf of the community.

At the close of the meeting, she said it had been a long process over the past week, “but it’s been really worthwhile having these discussions”.

Councillor Dale Williams congratulated Cherry-Campbell on her "stewardship and leadership" through the process and thanked councillors and staff.

“Continuing to move forward is absolutely essential and I’m proud of everybody,” he said.

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Last week, Ayling was excluded from hearings and part of deliberations due to a perceived conflict of interest after submitting to the LTP but was invited back partway through deliberations following advice from Local Government New Zealand [LGNZ].

When she moved to remove Cherry-Campbell as chair of the Hearings Committee, Ayling said perception and process was important and that she had received contact from members of the public who were “appalled” at her exclusion last week.

“I think everyone around this table should be very conscious of the fact that … the decision for me to be brought back into the room showed that a mistake had been made.”

Cherry-Campbell then raised a point of order citing a Standing Order of “irrelevance” and said the topic being discussed was “not the matter currently before the meeting”.

“Thank you for your discussion,” Cherry Campbell said.

“Obviously, you are very emotional about it all.”

Ayling quipped: “I’m not emotional about any of this, Robyn.”

After Ayling’s motion failed, Cherry-Campbell adjourned the meeting briefly.

Earlier in the meeting, Ayling moved to press pause on deliberations while legal advice was received regarding the proposed average rates increase that was consulted on.

She said she was “seeking assurance that our LTP has been done correctly”.

Councillor Dale Williams noted the risks around not adopting the LTP by statutory deadlines and Mayor Ron Mark said he had received advice from Auditor-General John Ryan saying there was an option for the council to adopt the LTP beyond June 30.

In the LTP consultation document, council proposed an average rates increase of 15.09 per cent.

Last week, elected members revealed the increase would be 17.5 per cent, however, at yesterday’s meeting, it was revealed that changes since the LTP consultation was launched had both raised and lowered the anticipated rates rise.

The changes so far had amounted to a net reduction of 0.4 per cent to the average rates increase proposed in the consultation document.

This takes the proposed average rates increase to 14.7 per cent but this is subject to change as the LTP draft is updated following deliberations.

A report presented to the committee yesterday by Carterton District Council chief executive Geoff Hamilton said management had sought legal advice on changes and the potential impact on council, the draft LTP consultation, and adoption process.

Mayor Ron Mark said it was likely this advice would come through this week.

Councillors will meet again on May 29 to rubber stamp the updated draft LTP.

Changes proposed during deliberations included the reallocation of funds into the three waters space, spacing out events centre spending over several years, and removing some funding from the Carterton District trails project.

Grants and memorandums of understanding were also discussed.

Regarding items that were consulted on with the public, councillors voted to go with its preferred roading option for “usable safe roads that are fit for purpose, with pavement rehabilitation to 1 per cent of the network, an increased focus on road maintenance, grading, and culvert clearing, with some activities removed”.

The option would not address dangerous intersections and known accident sites and roading assets would be compromised, but this was the preferred option due to it being less of a cost burden to ratepayers.

Councillors also voted to go with its preferred option for wastewater plant upgrades which was “minimum required upgrades to meet compliances and ensure network reliability”.

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