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Ashburton District Councillors vote on a rates increase of no more than 2.5 per cent.

Ashburton District Councillors moved today to slash a planned rates rise to no more than 2.5 per cent because of the financial hardship being caused in the district by the Covid-19 lockdown.
Council had planned a 4.88 per cent rates increase and at a meeting today councillors spent more than an hour in robust debate about whether they should continue as planned for the future good of the district, or cut operating costs and borrow to keep services up with a zero increase in rates.
Mayor Neil Brown used his casting vote to vote against keeping the 4.88 per cent rise after councillors were locked at 5-5 voting on a motion by Rodger Letham to stay the course.
Deputy mayor Liz McMillan then moved to have the rate rise set at no more than 2.5 per cent, which she reasoned was about the same as the rate of inflation. This was passed seven votes to three, with Mr Brown and councillors Carolyn Cameron and Angus McKay wanting their against votes noted.
Those three had pressed for something close to a zero rate rise and said tough times were ahead.
Fees and charges will rise slightly next financial year, as per budget decisions made for the 2020-21 financial year prior to Covid-19.
The smaller rate rise agreed upon today will partly come from a reduction in interest costs ($400,000) and contributions to Experience Mid Canterbury (the agency presented to council in private earlier in the day). Chief executive Hamish Riach will decide other savings points, councillors agreed.
They had received a report from council’s finance boss Paul Brake, who said money could also be pruned from operating costs by not employing a GIS officer ($80,000), not giving council staff pay rises ($735,500), cutting $50,000 from the Welcoming Communities Programme and cutting $45,000 from other council agencies like the Ashburton Trust Event Centre, Safer Community, Ashburton Art Gallery and Sports Mid Canterbury.
Councillors also voted to remove penalties for late payments of rates instalment four, due in May.
A report to councillors today said council was already receiving comments from ratepayers stating the difficulty they will face in being able to meet rate commitments in the coming months.
Cr Letham said council’s earlier budget had been modest and fair and council already had the ability to help those struggling to pay rates. The planned increase would add between $3 and $10 a month for property owners.
‘‘I don’t believe that is too onerous and I believe we can do more good for our community by having everything in place and ready to move rather than reducing rates.’’
Councillors Leen Braam, Lynette Lovett, Stuart Wilson and Diane Rawlinson voted with him in the first, failed recommendation.