ORC opts to join wilding tree battle

The Otago Regional Council has agreed to “dip its toe in the water”, setting aside funding for the first time to help eradicate wilding pines.

Presenting its draft annual plan to the Queenstown Lakes District Council in Wanaka on Thursday, chairman Stephen Woodhead said the ORC proposed several new activities in the next financial year, including a targeted rate to raise $100,000 to help control wilding conifers, particularly in the Queenstown Lakes and Central Otago districts.

Mr Woodhead said the ORC was consulting on two options to raise the funds and its preferred option was a “split of 50-50”.

That would see 50% of the funding coming from “across the region”, with the other half across the Queenstown Lakes and Central Otago districts, “seen as the beneficiaries of the work at this stage”.

Under that proposal, Queenstown Lakes ratepayers would pay $1.82 per year and Central Otago $2.81, with the rest of the region paying $0.54.

The other option was a targeted uniform rate of $1.07 per year spread across the 115,000 rateable properties in the region.

Mr Woodhead said the ORC preferred the first option because it “will give us some flexibility down the track” if other regions began experiencing the same issues with wilding trees.

While Mayor Vanessa van Uden acknowledged the ORC had put some funding in its annual plan to address the long-running issue, she contended it was a “regional issue” and therefore a uniform targeted rate was her preference.

Cr Scott Stevens congratulated the ORC for “dipping your toes in” but suggested “we’d like you to jump head- first in”.

Mr Woodhead said as a result of several initiatives across the region, Queenstown Lakes ratepayers would likely face a rate increase.

For a property with a capital value of $500,000, rates were proposed to increase from $49.16 in the 2015-16 year to $56.68 in the next financial year.

Submissions on the draft annual plan close on May 6.