Regional councillor against 52 per cent rates rise

Raglan ratepayers are being asked to stump up a whopping 52 per cent increase in the targeted West Coast Zone rate for hill country farming erosion work that will be of no benefit to our region.

As a first-term Waikato regional councillor of the Waikato General Ward and a representative on the West Coast Zone Committee, I find this proposal totally unacceptable, particularly as there has been no process for ratepayers to engage in or give feedback on – and it appears that some farmer committee members may be feathering their own nests.

At the end of last year, the regional council – through the council-appointed West Coast Zone Committee that is top-heavy with farmers – was awarded $630,000 of new government funding to manage hill country erosion on west coast farmland.

The focus of the erosion work is the three catchments of the Awakino, Lower Mokau and Mangaotaki rivers, which are all south of Kawhia and run directly into the sea.

Usually farmers that work with the regional council on soil conservation projects get back 35 per cent of costs, but in this case the landowners will get a 70 per cent subsidy.

WRC staff indicated that council was expected to match the government funding, dollar for dollar, therefore recommended a 52 per cent increase in the targeted West Coast Zone rate. (This rate makes up about 50 per cent of the council’s general rate and is dependent on property value.)

The committee voted in favour of the rate increase at a workshop last week, and the recommendation is likely to be rubber-stamped at the hearing and deliberations of 2017/2018 Annual Plan next week.

In my opinion, the council-appointed West Coast Zone Committee does not represent the majority of ratepayers and is not operating with transparency or good democratic processes.

I have observed some committee members voting – despite a conflict of interest – to support projects that will allocate funds to be applied to their own farms, including this hill country erosion work.

The committee’s application to the Hill Country Erosion Fund was made for an area that will not bring the greatest benefit to ratepayers.

It would have made more sense to get funding to do erosion work in west coast harbour catchments – Aotea, Kawhia, Raglan and Port Waikato – so that the resulting improved water quality can be enjoyed by communities (fishing, swimming, watersports, community health, tourism) instead of being poured directly into the sea.

The primary benefiters of the Hill Country Erosion Fund are the west coast farmers south of Kawhia Harbour.

These landowners will be able to use their massive subsidies to plant pine forests on their farms that they will then be able to harvest for a profit.

I don’t believe we should be asking the ratepayer for yet more money to subsidise farming businesses.

Fred Lichtwark, Waikato regional councillor