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Sought after . . . Demand being placed on the Waitaki district's public toilets due to rising tourist numbers means increased costs for the Waitaki District Council. PHOTO: DANIEL BIRCHFIELD

If the Waitaki District Council installs all of the toilet facilities it may need over the next few years due to increased tourist demand, that may increase servicing and maintenance costs to $750,000 annually, Waitaki Mayor Gary Kircher says.

The council already spent about $450,000 a year to service and maintain its public toilets around the district.

That cost included funds being put aside for costs associated with vandalism, and depreciation was also factored into the amount.

Mr Kircher said the council was “absolutely” concerned at the high cost involved in keeping the district’s public toilets usable, which involved some being serviced twice a day and others three times a week.

He said, as an example, the public toilets at Omarama cost Waitaki ratepayers an average of $1200 a week, or more than $60,000 a year.

“A lot of people that use those toilets may not spend anything in our district because they’re passing through.”

Mr Kircher, along with other mayors from the southern region, including those from Southland, Gore, Clutha, Central Otago and Mackenzie, planned to continue lobbying the Government to consider a visitors’ levy to help districts that had large visitor numbers and low ratepayer bases.

The group wrote a letter to Prime Minister Bill English several weeks ago urging his Government to consider the move.

Mr Kircher welcomed the $223,000 the Waitaki district received for toilets and other infrastructure in the final round of the Government’s Regional and Mid-sized Tourism Facilities Fund early this month, but said more needed to be done to address ongoing costs.

“It’s really good they’ve got their tourism infrastructure fund, which is helping with the capital cots of toilets but the reality is … every new toilet you put in or expansion of a toilet block creates greater operational costs.

“If we were to successfully put in place the toilets that we think we might need over the next three years then that’s going to increase those costs by over $300,000.”

That would bring the total cost to the council to about $750,000 annually, and Mr Kircher believed Waitaki ratepayers should not be forced to carry the can.

“We’re very strongly lobbying central government … about ongoing operation contributions towards the tourist use of toilets, and in particular, we see a visitor levy as being an important tool.

“To be able to do that (targeting tourists), it would be a charge that would be dedicated to this type of cost as opposed to clipping the ticket of GST or any other such measure where future governments can easily take that away.”

That lobbying included a meeting with Tourism Minister Paula Bennett on June 23.

Mackenzie Mayor Graham Smith and Central Otago district councillor Stephen Jeffery also attended the meeting, and while Mrs Bennett did not support a visitors’ levy, Mr Kircher said the meeting was positive.

“It’s given us some direction as to if we want to continue investigating ongoing contributions to the operations then we need to come up with some good evidence.

“I want to talk to Local Government New Zealand and rally their forces and as a sector, put the argument strongly to the Government that there is something they need to be doing.”

In the meantime, he said the council had “little choice” but to provide suitable facilities “at the right place with the right level of service” without Government assistance.