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Debt-ridden council slammed for spending $70,000 on Maori language app for staff while rates rise by 80%

A local council in New Zealand is under fire for spending $70,000 on an app for its own staff to learn the Maori language while residents are hit by rate rises.

Hamilton City Council’s net debt is predicted to surpass $1 billion this year, as as a result ratepayers are facing a 19.9% rate rise, increasing to 80% over the next five years.

Councillor Geoff Taylor said he was upset by the decision, asking what residents in the city of 185,000 were getting out of the app, and that instead non-core spending should be paused for the next three years.

“Why aren’t you putting the money into offsetting existing costs, instead of creating apps so staff can learn te reo [Maori]? I just think it’s really cavalier,” he told RNZ.

“Should the money be going to an app? Shouldn’t it be going to roads or water or pipes? What do residents get out of this?”

“I keep hearing our leadership say there’s no pet projects and there’s no wastage going on, but to me this just shows that there is [wastage].

But the council said it was vital for staff to have Maori knowledge and cultural appreciation of the city’s history in order to work effectively.

“To support the economic and cultural opportunity that Maori bring to Kirikiriroa, Hamilton City Council staff must have a base-level cultural appreciation of the city’s history and matauranga Maori [Maaori knowledge],” said Hamilton City Council general manager of partnerships, communication and Maori Janet Carson.

The app is due to be launched at the end of May and the $70,000 cost came out of $525,000 in federal funding the council voted to put towards to Maori-related initiatives.

This included $175,000 to come up with a Treaty of Waitangi policy, $175,000 to develop and implement a “Maori knowlege” framework, and $175,000 for a Maori language policy, which includes the app.

Maori make up an estimated 23.7% of Hamilton’s population, and the city has two Maori ward councillors who are elected by voters of Maori descent only.

One of those councillors, Melaina Huaki, resigned immediately last week, citing health problems.

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