Let’s talk rates: no pie-in-the-sky ideas, no empty promises.
It's election time and candidates will promise the earth to get your vote. I won’t. Nor will I promise what I alone cannot deliver.
But one thing I can promise wholeheartedly. You deserve a Mayor that listens and takes a balanced approach to the problems Hamilton faces today and going forward. I promise to do just that.
My approach contrasts with that of others. One Mayoral candidate is promising linking rates to the cost of living, and in a year where rates have hurt many ratepayers, this will be popular. But the big question is how? We need more than a promise, we need details. Where are the ideas for doing this that were not proposed during last year’s debates? I, for one, would have been glad to hear workable solutions.
Another Mayoral candidate blew public confidence last year by proposing a 16% rates hike overnight. That really put the cat among the pigeons. The battle was long and at times brutal during the Long-Term Plan.
Everyone, and I mean everyone, had favoured projects they did not want to let go. Everyone defended what they considered right for the city.
I pushed in particular for local playgrounds, libraries, Lake Waikawhakareke, better sports fields and parts of the River Plan. Other Mayoral candidates wanted fenced dog parks, more city safety, big plans for the CBD and more.
Most of us pushed against the big rates rise and slowly it came down to 9.8%.
Was I happy about this? No. I voted against many big spends such as the purchase of private property for $6.4 million. I tried to better smooth the rates increase across more years. I lost.
The majority of councillors prevailed. That is the democratic process.
Was I happy with the way the Council engaged with the public? No. I have made no secret that the Council must improve public participation and actively listen to the ratepayer.
One Mayoral candidate voted against the entire plan to protest the rates. I did not. I accept that one person is one vote. I disliked parts of the plan and believe me, I said so, but in amongst the things I did not approve of, there were things I supported.
A great concern to me was the state of many community assets. Waterworld is a prime example. How was it right to let this key facility become so run down? Yet that is what happened under the previous Council, to focus primarily on city debt and hold rates.
Let me be clear, previous Councils (before my time) have under-invested in renewing and maintaining our community assets such as libraries, community centres, pools, parks and playgrounds. And also under-invested in core infrastructures such as footpaths, road safety and water services to provide for the aging parts of the city and the growth areas. I have led the debate on better renewals and maintenance, to “stop the rot”.
But Council has also invested in some nice to have items, such as property required for an extended “central river park”. This is not the time. Ratepayers did not want this.
So, back to rates. Rates must be stable, fair and affordable. To achieve this we must re-adjust spending priorities, we must hold the chief executive to account for the promised $92 million savings over 10 years, and we must look for cost savings and efficiencies.
If this can be applied to reduce rates and debt, that is good. In the meantime, I propose to hold rates at no more than the proposed 3.8%. As ratepayers you deserve certainty. No empty promises, no pie-in-the-sky overnight ideas, no “legacy” projects.
To repeat, you deserve a Mayor that listens, one that takes a balanced approach to the problems the city faces today and going forward. I promise I will be that Mayor.