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Whanganui District Council proposes 10.6 per cent rates increase; prepares to consult public

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The Rotokawau Virginia Lake aviary (from left), Repertory Theatre and Whanganui East pool are all facing the chop. Photo / Bevan Conley

An average rates rise of 10.6 per cent for the coming financial year is in play for Whanganui but huge calls have to be made to get there.

Whanganui District councillors meet on Tuesday morning to sign off the consultation document for its next 10-year plan which includes tackling rates for the 2024/25 financial year.

The draft document says the council would need to close the Whanganui East Pool, the bird aviary at Rotokawau Virginia Lake and the Repertory Theatre on Ridgway St to get to 10.6 per cent.

A major upgrade was needed to keep the pool operating, with a $2.1 million price tag.

The draft document said due to the significant investment required, it was the perfect time to look at broader options for outdoor swimming and develop a facility that was fit for the future.

Closing the aviary, which was saved from the chopping block in the council’s 2023/24 annual plan process, would save $190,000 a year.

Mayor Andrew Tripe said there were “emotive areas” in the document and the bird aviary was one of them.

“The only reason for that popping up again is that in a very short amount of time, the context has changed,” Tripe said.

It’s the same with [economic development agency] Whanganui & Partners. We didn’t envisage bringing them in-house initially because they are doing a good job, but we need to save money.

“It all adds up.”

The council had offered Repertory Theatre preferential use of the Royal Whanganui Opera House, he said.

Whanganui Mayor Andrew Tripe. Photo / Bevan Conley
Whanganui Mayor Andrew Tripe. Photo / Bevan Conley

Closing the theatre for demolition would save $40,000.

“The consultation document is a chance for people to feed back on their views,” he said.

“Sewerage [cost] is up 30 per cent, roading up 27 per cent and inflation, insurance and interest rates have all gone up.

“Unfortunately, that’s the environment we are in.”

To get to 10.6 per cent, the council also needs to remove the hanging baskets throughout Whanganui’s central city, which “could be considered a nice-to-have”, and close the Davis Library at Pukenamu Queen’s Park for one weekday.

Closing the library one day a week would save $43,000 annually and removing the baskets would save $93,000.

The council is recommending increasing community grant funding by $100,000, keeping rural rubbish drop-offs, keeping the Winter Gardens at Rotokawau Virginia Lake open and retaining New Zealand Glassworks.

Closing the glassworks would save $192,000 a year, closing the drop-off sites would save $175,000 and closing the gardens would save $140,000.

Removing the extra $100,000 in grant funding would save each property $5.30 a year.

The draft document said the council had already decided on changes to reach around $1.5m in savings.

They included reducing budgets for trees, shrubs and annuals, reducing the number of new library books purchased, disestablishing the Youth Council and associated work programme and reducing maintenance of premier parks.

To remain at a 10.6 per cent rise, $400,000 of council assets would need to be sold in the next financial year, saving $23 per property.

Over the entire long-term plan period, the council is proposing to sell $16m of assets.

The council is proposing to close the Davis Library for one day a week. Photo / Bevan Conley
The council is proposing to close the Davis Library for one day a week. Photo / Bevan Conley

Tripe said it was about looking at assets that were not strategically important or had a low return.

“There are certainly some that don’t fit that category but we need to do an audit of what we’ve got.

“It’s too early to say [what they are] at the moment because we need some criteria around what we sell and what we don’t.

“We’ll do some analysis of the lay of the land – literally – and see what pops out.”

Tripe said of the 10.6 per cent increase, 2.4 per cent would be for the council’s new urban kerbside recycling service, which is due to start on July 1.

The council is proposing a targeted rate for the service, which will apply to all residential households in the serviced areas of Whanganui city, Mowhanau, Marybank and Fordell.

It is set to cost $143.20 per separately used or inhabited part of a rating unit for the 2024/25 year.

“If you took that out, we would be one of the lowest [rate increases] in the country,” Tripe said.

“For me, it’s fortunate that we’ve invested well in our three waters infrastructure and, compared to other councils, we have relatively low debt.

“I’ve talked to fellow mayors around New Zealand and there is some very real concern.”

According to Local Government New Zealand, the average rates rise across the country is 15 per cent.

Consultation on the long-term plan runs from April 2 until May 2, followed by hearings on May 14-16, with the council making decisions on May 28-29.

The plan must be adopted by June 30.

Mike Tweed is an assistant news director and multimedia journalist at the Whanganui Chronicle. Since starting in March 2020, he has dabbled in everything from sport to music. At present his focus is local government, primarily the Whanganui District Council.

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