Ōpōtiki District Council adopted its information document on the 2020-21 Annual Plan Our plan in action for public feedback.  This document shows what rates are expected to be and explains how Council plans to progress major projects for the 2020-21 year.

Ōpōtiki Mayor Lyn Riesterer said that like councils around the country, it was an unusual time to be going through an annual planning process and there was still a lot to work through with the community before the document was finalised in June.

“Of course, like most councils, we started our annual planning long before COVID-19 was on the horizon so we expect that some of the contents will shift and change over the coming months.

“For this coming year, our LTP [the 2018-28 Long Term Plan] had signalled a 5.06% rates increase for the coming year. Our initial planning pre-COVID-19 had already reduced that to 4.78% and then reduced it again to 4.25% in the document we considered in council yesterday. However, we have asked Council to look closely at where we can see savings and how we can trim that further in light of the economic pressure that may be felt by some in the community. We are also asking the community for their thoughts and feedback and together that will impact what we adopt in the Annual Plan in June.

“We consulted extensively on the LTP and even now in light of COVID-19, that plan is still a strong foundation for economic growth and social wellbeing in the district. That hasn’t changed and in fact, the clear pathway out of the current downturn and into a strong recovery is already outlined in our LTP.

“Recovery will be a marathon and not a sprint – we don’t want to make a decision now that slows our growth or delays a necessary piece of infrastructure that may be a vital component in the strong and sustained recovery of our district. This is not the time to hit pause and retrench on vital community assets that build growth and create jobs. 

“As a council we have worked hard for so many years to get some key projects (the Harbour development of course but also several other opportunities up the coast, Te Tahuhu o Te Rangi and the digital hub) off the ground. So the start of 2020 was a big moment for our community as all of the key elements were in place. We got the green light and the funding to turn Ōpōtiki’s plan into a reality and we even held a street party to celebrate. Then COVID-19 has hit with a big blow to our district. But our LTP is a key component to our recovery plan – it is about job creation and sustainable economic growth and about bringing financial and social benefits to parts of our communities that have missed the bus previously on the GDP growth seen in other parts of the Bay,” Mayor Riesterer said. 

The Mayor also said that council was very aware of the pressures some in the community were feeling with jobs losses and restrictions on commerce through the Level 4 lockdown and beyond. She said that council was making sure ratepayers were aware of the options that were available for those facing financial hardship.

“Please talk to council about your concerns and see what options are available – we have a strong policy on rates remission that allows postponement or remission for hardship and also for economic development,” Mayor Riesterer said.

Councillors also discussed the anticipated reduction in costs and cost management they expect to see in the coming quarters and other factors that may influence rates rises felt by the community.

“On the positive side, we have recently submitted several large-scale CIP [Crown Infrastructure Projects] to central government. If any announcements are made about funding on those, it will certainly impact rates costs for households.

“On the other side, there are still some unknowns about things like targeted rates from the Bay of Plenty Regional Council on the Waioeka-Otara river scheme which may be felt heavily in our community. Certainly, the decision from regional council that there will be a zero rate-rise for the general rate was well-received, but the big costs for our community are the river rates so we will wait to see what those hold for the township as well.

“We expect all this information and feedback from the community will inform the final annual plan document for adoption in June,” Mayor Riesterer said.