May 29

A disturbing life in the country

Protesting the Kaipara District Council's long-term plan

Family members among 2000 protesting the Kaipara council's proposed rates hike.

Our quiet life in the country is now a deeply disturbing life in the country.

On a recent sunny Saturday in the seaside town of Mangawhai, family members were painting slogans on banners for a protest march to a meeting organised by the Kaipara District Council. It attracted a couple of thousand people, for good reason. If the Council’s proposed Long Term Plan comes into force as drafted, their rates will double in one case and triple in another – among other injustices.

The day before Mangawhaians took to the streets the farmer and I attended a similar meeting in Maungaturoto. As everyone settled, the councillor chairing the event joked that only quiet people should sit at the front. Anyone who wanted to throw things should stay at the back. There would be an opportunity to ask questions, he went on, and everyone was to refrain from using bad language.

His approach prompted forced laughter which, given the situation, was the most humour anyone expected.

The source of the widespread angst is Council’s plan to fleece ratepayers to pay off its massive debt. Actually, it’s the astronomical debt that’s so upsetting; it inspires cliches like ‘beggars belief’ and ‘asleep at the switch’.

Have you ever gone out for coffee planning to spend $6 then, say, met a friend, and spent $20; aimed to spend $20 on dinner and spent $60; budgeted $200 and coughed up $600; hoped to part with $2000, but said goodbye to $6000; set your maximum spend at $200,000 then found a dream house for $600,000 – and bought it?

Do you notice that, as the numbers rise, the scenarios seem increasingly far-fetched they’re impossible?

Try this: the Kaipara District Council, after community consultation, budgeted $23 million on the Mangawhai sewerage scheme but then, without continuing to consult the community or, one wonders, each other, allowed the debt to spiral to almost $60 million.

The farmer and I and, hopefully, many others are making submissions in response to the plan. The deadline is 4pm on Wednesday 30 May.

If the Council passes its proposed plan, countless individuals and businesses will go to the wall; people in Mangawhai face the largest increases, but rates are escalating district wide – including for us at the end of a gravel road.

At the meeting, after the Council had presented its proposals, it was question time. Most related to the debt crisis, then a new resident who lives on Maungaturoto’s outskirts said his gravel road was a mess, full of ruts and potholes and getting worse.

“You should have seen it a few decades back,” said someone, “it was a goat track.”

Unperturbed, he pressed on: “I’m wondering,” he said, “whether there’s any chance of having more of the road sealed?”

The meeting collapsed into such unrestrained laughter it led to even louder laughter – with the edge of hysteria that’s often present alongside fear.

About the author

Rae Roadley

Rae is a journalist, freelance writer and writing tutor. Soon after returning to her hometown to work for Northland's daily newspaper, she met beef and sheep farmer Rex Roadley. He lived in a historic home at Batley on the Kaipara Harbour and after moving there, Rae reported on farming then wrote a newspaper column, The Country Side. Her wryly amusing tales of country life earned many followers and led her to learn more about the local people, past and present. She tells the story of her new life in 'Love at the End of the Road: Finding my heart in the country'.