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‘Hell Of A Lot Better’: Millions More In Council Money For Sewerage Scheme

Rotorua’s council has unanimously voted for it to pour $5.424 million more into a controversial sewerage scheme to spread a greater share of the cost across all ratepayers.

The vote came as a councillor said the new plan was “a hell of a lot better” and another acknowledged the hurt the community felt, while the chief executive said the council had not given customers the standard of experience it aimed for.

Rotorua Lake Council began deliberations on their Long-Term Plan yesterday to decide what funding gets the green light for the next 10 years.

When consultation closed, 1474 people had submitted.

Draft plans included charging commercial rates to properties advertised as short-term rentals at least 60 days per year, shelving new skatepark plans and inflation adjustments to the council’s contribution to two sewerage schemes.

Council staff on Thursday presented two options for funding the $56.2m East Rotoiti - Rotomā sewerage scheme. Initially, residents believed they would pay at least $14,000 to $15,000 upfront but learned through the consultation period this could escalate to $45,000 upfront, and $88,000 if over 25 years.

Option 1: Subsidise repayments with a further $924,000 from the council and a $10m loan from the Ministry for the Environment. Households in the scheme would pay $29,207 each.
Option 2: Add to the above an extra $4.5m share from the council to counter cost escalations. Households in the scheme would each pay $22,486 and the extra would be recuperated by all district ratepayers paying $15.50 per year for 25 years.
Option 3: Status quo.

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Having listened to submissions, chief executive Andrew Moraes said the standard of experience customers had received through the project was “far below what I believe council and council staff would like to provide”.

The reasons why were complex, he said, and not always clearly communicated.

Aggravating factors, such as cost, were outside council control, Moraes said.

“But to be fair to submitters that hasn’t been fully clear to them.”

Mayor Tania Tapsell backed the second option, and councillors voted unanimously in support.

“The financial burden on this community is incredible. But also these lakes are a great asset for our wider community and the many visitors that come to enjoy them as well.”

She said she had confirmed on Thursday morning with Associate Environment Minister Andrew Hoggard the $10m would loaned for the scheme.

Councillor Rawiri Waru said Option 2 was “a hell of a lot better than what was proposed”.

His colleague Lani Kereopa expressed how councillors felt the hurt, stress and anger from the community. Option 2 was the closest to the 2017 costing, she said.

“I apologise to the fact we can’t honour the contract you believed you signed at that time.”

People would still struggle to pay, she said.

The live-streamed deliberations continue today and potentially Monday, with a final plan to be adopted June 26.

- LDR is local body journalism co-funded by RNZ and NZ On Air.

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