Roading rate and cemetery maintenance two issues raised at Stratford council hearing

The maintenance of Stratford’s Kopuatama Cemetery was raised by two residents during a submissions hearing on the Stratford District Council draft annual plan. Photo / Ilona Hanne

A proposed rate differential for forestry landowners was the main topic last week when the mayor and Stratford district councilors met to hear, and discuss, submissions received on the draft annual plan 2022-23.

Of the 23 submissions received, 17 included comments on the proposed rating change, 12 of which called for changes or for the idea to be scrapped entirely.

Bill Davies was one of the submitters opposed to the proposed rate and spoke to his submission at Tuesday’s hearing.

He was, he said, an ex-farmer who was “one of the early pioneers” in forestry, and had lived for many years on a property accessed by a “very poorly constructed metal road”.

“So I have a little experience in this area.”

Forestry, said Bill, had brought benefits to the region for a long time, and it seemed unfair people should now be penalized for it. The damage to roads was nothing new, he said, and despite it being raised many times, “very little action had been taken”.

“The pigeons have now come home to roost.”

He felt it was an issue for central government to deal with, not local councils.

Other submitters on the subject discussed by rates should be calculated “case case”, and asked where the money from previous rates had been spent if not on the roads.

Councilor Rick Coplestone asked why council couldn’t instead charge logging trucks “per tonne” they carried over the roads, or for the distance they traveled on them.

It was “bizarre” council couldn’t do this, he said, because it was the most logical solution that he could see.

CEO Sven Hanne said while he agreed it was a logical option, “if we sent a bill based on tonnes or kilometres, companies would have no requirement to pay it as there is no legal requirement for them to do so”. Rates, he said, were the legal tool council had at its disposal.

Stratford District Mayor Neil Volzke said the only practical method they had was to calculate the rate by using the capital value of the properties concerned.

Elected members decided to go ahead with the rates proposal without making changes, other than agreeing each property would be assessed individually before the owner was charged.

Two submitters, both of whom spoke at the meeting, expressed dissatisfaction with the condition of Stratford’s Kopuatama Cemetery.

“Your contractors and council staff can’t even keep it clean and tidy,” said Debbie McKinlay.

“I have made numerous suggestions and complaints about this over the years, only [for them] to continue to fall on deaf ears.”

She would like to see the plans, she said, for the proposed $76,800 cemetery entrance upgrade referred to in the draft annual plan.

She said when there was a sexton at the cemetery “he took pride in it and there were no complaints”. Now she heard lots of people complain about the “state of it”.

“I don’t see that we should be increasing rates to increase the level of service. The job should just be done.”

Shellie Anne Vesty was also unhappy with the condition of the cemetery.

“I, and other people in the community, feel the contractor is not providing a high level of service there.”

She felt there was a “that’ll do” attitude when it came to the cemetery.

“These are our loved ones who some have had a huge community input, like my husband, a firefighter for 28 years. It’s like they are dumped in this place, out of sight, out of mind. It is so very upsetting.”

The whole cemetery needed some “tender loving care”, she said, not just the entrance, and the money would be better spent on things like tables and trees for shade instead.

Councilor John Sandford said he agreed the cemetery needed attention, with grass clippings left covering headstones at times.

Director of assets Victoria Araba said the level of service the contractor was tasked to provide could be increased, but it would come at an increased cost. She said she would get information on options and costs ready for councilors to consider at June’s council meeting before they formally adopted the annual plan.

Other submissions covered a range of topics, including a request for more land for the Stratford Croquet Club, a call for the council to consider a land allotment system used in Israel to “solve the rural suburb divide”, and a 149-page submission relating to the Covid response.

Councilors agreed on formal written responses to be sent by council staff to each of the 23 submissions received. The final annual plan 2022-23 will be adopted at the full council meeting on June 14 and the new rates will take effect from July 1.

• Disclaimer: Editor Ilona Hanne is married to the CEO of Stratford District Council

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