Kaikoura District is struggling to stay afloat. As the new decade begins, New Zealand smallest district in terms of rate payer base is facing rate increases of up to 50% in the current council term, or about 16-17% per annum.
This problem is not new, and nor are the calls for amalgamating with Marlborough District Council. In October 2019 a report came out that said if Kaikoura District Council maintained its current funding model it would run the real risk of imploding within a matter of years.
It is true that Kaikoura District Council has some huge – and largely unresolvable – matters not necessarily of its making. The earthquake of 14 November 2016 caused $2 billion in damage around the district, most of it being to State Highway 1, the railway line, council infrastructure such as the water supply, community amenities. There was also widespread damage to private premises.
The natural effects of such a large earthquake also made themselves known. the harbour and South Bay marina were effectively left high and dry within a couple of minutes as hundreds of square kilometres of sea floor was uplifted from Cloudy Bay near Blenheim as far south as Oaro. Paua beds were left high and dry as well, causing a large amount of paua to go to waste.
And there were the inevitable economic effects. On top of the repair bill, which the then Government said it would foot since it involved infrastructure of national importance, there was several billion dollars in lost revenue. The closure of the road and railway by a combination of rock falls, displacement by rupturing faults and uplift virtually crippled Kaikoura. Even when the road and railway reopened, constant closures have afflicted them both. Ongoing repairs are likely to continue for the foreseeable future. Also affected was Kaikoura’s world famous Whale Watch operation, which takes tourists out on boats to see sperm whales taking advantage of a deep sea canyon that comes in to within a few kilometres of the coast.
As Kaikoura has struggled back to its feet its District Council has faced some tough economic decisions. It cannot afford to just lump rate rise upon rate rise simply because it suits. Aside from locals having limited finances, the population in a District that extends from Oaro to Kekerengu in the north and is dominated by Kaikoura with little communities dotted along the coast, is a tiny 4,030.
Faced with these huge hurdles, no one should be too surprised that there are suggestions it should amalgamate with the Marlborough District Council. Historically this is a logical suggestion as the coastal communities north of the Clarence River typically identify with, Marlborough rather than Canterbury. They might have amalgamated earlier with Hurunui District Council, to the south, but for the rejection of the proposal by the Local Government Authority in 2009.
Rather than saddle Kaikoura with rate rises that might push the local rate payer base into an untenable position, I support investigating whether K.D.C. can actually change its funding model. If it cannot, the Council should approach the L.G.A. and ask for permission to hold a referendum on merging. At the end of the day, things are coming to a financial head that no one really wants, but the risk of implosion if the Council cannot change is very real.