SunLive – Ōpōtiki: Council reassesses services after abuse

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After receiving heavy criticism on social media pages and through service requests, Ōpōtiki District Council staff asked councilors if they should mow any berms in the town.

A report was tabled by the head of planning and regulation, Gerard McCormack, at last week’s council meeting, asking councilors to choose between three options: maintaining the current level of service, changing the priorities of seven current employees of the department or increase the level of service.

Chief executive Aileen Lawrie told the mayor and councilors that staff were facing a lot of criticism from service requests.

“They tell us that they get quite abusive service requests for things that aren’t actually funded or part of our level of service. Today is therefore simply a matter of reaffirming our level of service so that we can defend these criticisms.

This comes after a firestorm of criticism from the council on social media pages regarding the Bridge Street section of the footpath that runs alongside Ōpōtiki College grounds. The trail was almost completely covered in grass and was unusable for strollers or people with reduced mobility.

A worker bee by locals, including several businesses, was held in early May to check out the trail.

Mr McCormack’s report says the council’s parks and reserves team were responsible for a range of activities including tree maintenance, mowing, planting, litter pick-up, spraying, clearing drains and landscaping around council buildings and cemeteries.

“Given the large size of the district and the small size of the team, the team has always had to prioritize where the time is spent.

“The edging and mowing of sidewalks outside private property could be prioritized, but that would mean that something that is currently delivered could no longer be delivered in the same way.

“In order to increase the level of service, additional resources will be needed…it will probably require additional personnel and additional machinery. Additional costs should be covered by a grade increase or reductions in other areas.

Mayor Lyn Riesterer said she understood that groups and organizations were expected to mow their own berms and that the council was not responsible for mowing all berms throughout the district.

“I know at the time I was at Ōpōtiki middle school, the gardener was outside, always.”

Ms Lawrie says it was a national convention that landowners looked after berms outside their properties, although all councils had occasional issues with people refusing to do so .

Councilor David Moore says maintaining the status quo is getting more and more expensive.

“We cannot continue to increase levels, we are already struggling to keep rates as they are.”

Councilors voted to maintain the current level of services and said they would consider whether they wanted staff to write a report on how service levels could be improved and what that would look like in terms of costs.

-Local Democracy Reporting is public interest journalism funded by NZ On Air

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