Fair Go: Council that offers most affordable services revealed

Garth Bray
Source: Fair Go

You might think bigger is better but when it comes to councils that's not always true. Kawerau District Council has emerged tops in Fair Go's council charges challenge.

The Bay of Plenty town is the cheapest place to register a dog ($37 per year), the lowest fixed charge for water ($82 per year) and also charges the least for a Land Information Memorandum ($168), the report that helps you check out a property.

Kawerau mayor-elect Faylene Tunui was pleasantly surprised by the news but says it is part of her kaupapa - no big projects, just nail the basics.

"It's somewhere to live, somewhere to work so that we can earn an income to create a life for our families, something to hope for so we leave something behind for our kids, and if we take care of those three things, hopefully we can find someone to love on the journey and look after us. That's the dream."

Kawerau keeps costs down for residents by putting more of the rates bill on some big ratepayers - mostly the pulp and paper mills and a large geothermal power plant.

"The cheapest water supply in the country; don't get me going on water supply right now, please," said Kawerau's longstanding and outgoing mayor Malcolm Campbell, who's been grappling with the Three Waters reforms.

Kawerau's low charge for dog registrations was also a deliberate move to ensure as many people as possible opt in. You don't have to go far to find the highest price.

Further inland at Tokoroa, the South Waikato District council charges up to $172 a year for dog registration, though nearly half the residents have qualified for cheaper rates under a responsible dog owner scheme.

South Waikato District Council says it offers a high level of service when compared to many other councils.

"The team attend every complaint in person (roaming, barking, welfare). Some councils send letters. Some councils don’t even do that," a Council spokesperson told Fair Go.

Quite a number of councils also offer some form of responsible dog owner test or scheme. Some charge but many offer it for free and all lead to a discounted registration. Fair Go suggests if your council doesn't run a scheme, it's worth asking why not.

As for the rest of the pack, Fair Go contacted 67 local authorities to ask what do you charge for the following -

a dog owner wanting to register a desexed dog with no history of bad behaviour;

a home-buyer doing their research who orders a LIM to find out everything the council knows about a property

a home-owner wanting a glass of water from their tap;

a driver parking up in your main street for an hour

and a reader who has hung on to that library book for a week too long.

Dog registration

Behind Kawerau, Chatham Islands Council places second with a $44 charge and Selwyn District a close third on $45.

New Plymouth's $163.50 and Porirua's $134 took out the silver and bronze for priciest.


Charges vary greatly with some councils burying the cost of water in general rates.

The podium finishers for fixed charges are

  • Kawerau 82 year (22 cents a day)
  • Nelson 203.29 (56 cents a day)
  • Rotorua Lakes 335.7 year (92 cents a day)

At the other end of that scale:

  • Carterton and Chatham Islands, both 841.94 year ($2.31 day)
  • Ruapehu 819.32 year ($2.24 day)

About a third are on metered water - so the costliest are:

  • Kaipara 0.418c litre ($2.56 day)
  • Far North 0.387c litre ($2.37 day)
  • Tauranga 0.333c litre ($2.04 day)

Some councils have lower rates for some areas, so the lowest overall are:

  • Ōpōtiki 0.056c litre (34 cents day)
  • Wairoa 0.064c litre (39 cents day)
  • Timaru 0.075c litre (46 cents day)

Car parking in the main street was mostly free. Main centres Auckland, Wellington, Christchurch charge most, along with Queenstown. All are wanting between $4-5 per hour at peak times.

Library late fees have been crushed at most councils. Napier still wants $4.20 if you're a week overdue. Hamilton, Matamata-Piako, Thames-Coromandel, and South Waikato all want $3.50 per week. Many have made kids' books exempt from late fees - but not all, sadly.

Land Information Memorandum

LIMs are probably a once or twice in a lifetime cost unless you're a house flipper, but they're an interesting indication of who's making it easier to buy and sell property in their place.

As we said, Kawerau tops the table but the charges vary a lot from there on.

  • Kawerau - $168
  • Central Otago - $185
  • Hurunui - $190

And at the top end

  • Grey District - $470
  • Palmerston North - $455
  • Wellington- $426.50

Rates are probably the biggest factor in most minds and there, the data are incomplete.

We asked for the median rates bill - that's the figure that above or below half the ratepayers are paying more than, or less than.

Chatham Islands Council at $995.01 must have a lot of residents paying low rates.

Carterton on $4287 came in highest, but as we say quite a few only replied with their average, or a figure for an average property, or simply have yet to reply.

Wherever you are, you get your say in the coming week - please ensure you can vote in the local body elections and make that vote count.