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Published: 2010-02-26 00:00:00

Environment Waikato has signed off its draft 2010/11 budgets based on a rates requirement of $68.83 million, an overall increase of 1.86 per cent to existing ratepayers.

In approving the budgets yesterday, the regional council authorised staff to prepare the 2010/11 Draft Annual Plan, which is due to be formally adopted at a special meeting on 11 March. Public consultation on the plan will take place from 1 April to 30 April.

Chairman Peter Buckley said the council looked forward to hearing from Waikato ratepayers and residents about whether the proposed levels of service and associated budgets met community expectations.

"We encourage people to read the draft plan when it’s published and give us feedback on any matter of interest to them," he said.

The council will also be seeking the community’s direction on specific questions including whether to increase rates to donate $50,000 to surf lifesaving clubs and to continue collecting a levy on behalf of the Animal Health Board to fund the region’s $650,000 share of bovine-Tb eradication work.

The council agreed to increase the pest management budget by $180,000 to fund the first stage of a three-year, $500,000 pest control operation in North Waikato.

It also reviewed the costs of new work arising from the agreement between the Crown and Waikato-Tainui over management of the Waikato River between Karapiro and Port Waikato.

The council has removed $500,000 forecast revenue from its budget pending discussions and confirmation from the Government that it will fund work associated with the Waikato River Treaty deal.

Until the question of government funding has been resolved, the estimated $500,000 required to establish co-management processes and arrangements will be funded by re-prioritising existing work programmes. This will be looked at in greater detail through the submissions process.

In addition, based on recommendations from the finance and audit committee, the council agreed to:

· include an extra $159,000 in the civil defence and emergency management budget, subject to the recommendations of a civil defence working group set up to review the funding, culture, leadership and coordination of the group

· an additional $50,000 to manage additional aquaculture functions resulting from regional boundary changes, bring the total provision for transitional costs arising from the boundary change to $75,000

· a proposed new targeted rate for west coast catchment work set at 35 per cent general rate, 35 per cent targeted rate and 30 per cent landowner contribution.

The council also agreed to a number of changes to its rating package which reduce rates overall, simplify administration and bring the package into line with most other councils.

The proposal to remove the early payment discount has reduced the rates increase by more than $1 million, or 1.54 per cent.

In the current financial year the cost of the discount was $1.395m, with almost three quarters of ratepayers taking up the opportunity to get the discount by paying their rates in full by 20 September, with the 28 per cent of ratepayers who do not pay by the due date or pay by direct debit instalments subsidising the rest.

In light of this, the council considers it fairer do away with the discount.

Ratepayers will now have until 30 October to pay their rates or go on a payment plan and the penalty for late payment will increase to 10 per cent, with a penalty applied in July for the previous year’s rates and in November for the current year unpaid rates. Ratepayers on a payment plan will not incur penalties.

The Draft Annual Plan will be available on EW’s website and in hard copy from 1 April.