Environment Waikato’s council has finalised its 10-year plan and budgets after deliberating on public submissions and balancing community expectations against affordability in the current tough economic climate.
The regional council's original draft plan for the financial year starting July 1 2009 proposed an average rates rise for existing ratepayers of 4 per cent. But additional rates targeted to groups willing to pay more for key services will take the average rates increase to 5.6 per cent.
For example, 1 per cent of the additional amount represents the $650,000 Animal Health Board (AHB) levy, which the council will collect for the AHB through a targeted rate on rural landowners owning properties 2ha or greater.
Chairman Peter Buckley said the council had worked hard to keep rates roughly in line with the inflationary cost increases it faced while also responding to specific requests to provide extra services for people willing to pay for them.
The council’s proposals attracted considerable community feedback. Public submissions asked the council to reinstate funding for the Clean Streams project, support home clean heat conversions, provide additional funding for some pest management and drainage programmes, and give ongoing support to community initiatives such as Beachcare and the Maungatautari Ecological Island Project (MEIT).
The finalised plan will be delivered on total rates revenue of $66.56 million, with the increases included as a result of public submissions applying largely to targeted rates – these are rates that apply to those who benefit most from the services or contribute to the need for that work to occur in the first place.
“We have held the general rate increase to the level as proposed in the draft plan and the only changes are where people have asked for greater levels of service and have said they want to pay for those services, such as drainage and catchment works, the AHB share and Clean Streams,” Mr Buckley said.
In light of the global credit crunch and forecast reduced returns, the council had proposed to cut the Clean Streams project which had been funded from investment fund income.
As a result of public submissions, the council’s Clean Streams project will continue to be funded through a mix of general and targeted rates, and individual farmer contributions, although at the reduced amount of $650,000 a year.
The council would also put an additional $100,000 into its air quality budget to contribute to clean heat conversions in low income areas.
In addition, the council had responded to catchment and drainage groups’ requests for services and would fund a range of schemes and projects through targeted rates.
Another decision made by the council will see the Natural Heritage Rate held at $5.60 a household. The council had proposed to increase the rate from $5.60 to $7.40 to fund the Natural Heritage Partnership Programme (NHPP), the Environmental Initiatives Fund and the Maungatautari project.
As a result of deliberations, the council will continue to fund all these projects but will change the way it funds the NHPP. Rather than collect the rate and build up a fund to buy natural heritage sites as opportunities arise, the council will borrow from the investment fund to secure permanent special places for the region.
The natural heritage rate will be used to fund Waikato River Trails and the cost of investigating natural heritage places appropriate for purchase ($120,000), Maungatautari ($300,000), and a fund to finance the cost of any borrowing should opportunities arise to purchase land ($150,000).
The council will formally approve the plan and strike the rate on June 29.