Crs split over island levy rise

Oban in Stewart Island is where the majority of the island’s tourists arrive. Residents will be able to have their say on the proposed increase to the island’s visitor levy. Photo: File

SOUTHLAND district councillors are divided about how much to increase Stewart Island’s visitor levy.

While all councillors agreed the current $5 levy should be increased, it was the amount of the increase they could not entirely agree on.

The council’s community and strategy committee discussed aspects of the increase and voted for the proposal to be presented for public submissions.

Stewart Island/Rakiura Community Board chairman Jon Sproggan said the board supported the need for the levy increase but believed the increase to $15 was “excessive”.

However, the board would support a regular incremental increase being adopted into the bylaw change.

Mr Sproggan said there should be a total review of the island’s other infrastructure services, because many were inefficient.

This included the Department of Conservation (Doc)-established tracks that were now maintained and funded by rates.

People going direct on to Doc land did not pay a visitor levy.

“I’m sure that Doc is capable of getting funding sourcing without dipping into the visitor levy money,” he said.

The present levy had been in place since 2013.

It was last reviewed in 2018 when it was agreed to keep the levy at $5 until a service delivery review had taken place.

Council staff had received feedback on the proposal in September 2021 – with most supporting an increase to $10, while councillors favoured $15.

Any change to the levy would only start in October 2023 at the earliest as any change needed a public consultation process first and those collecting the levy required 15 months’ notice.

Real Journeys, Stewart Island Flights and ISS McKay (cruise ship visits) collected the levy on behalf of the council.

Council senior policy analyst Carrie Williams said any financial shortfall which could not met by the levy would have to be met by ratepayers.

At present, there were only about 400 ratepayers supporting the 40,000 annual visitors to the island.

A levy increase would take the stress off them, she said.

The proposed increase was suggested to offset the additional costs visitors load on to the island’s infrastructure and services or to support other visitor-related projects.

The council said no feedback had been received in its September review indicating any rise would deter visitors from coming.

The council expected to release the proposed policy and bylaw change for public consultation in March.