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Published: 2009-02-13 00:00:00

Environment Waikato councillors look set to turn down a pay rise this year in line with moves to develop a budget that reflects difficult economic times.

The Finance and Audit committee yesterday decided to recommend that the council reject the salary increase indicated by the Remuneration Authority, which sets the pay of all elected representatives and statutory officers.

Under the authority’s formula, the total pool for councillors’ salaries would increase from $756,745 to $790,443, an increase of 4.45 per cent, from 1 July 2009. The chairman’s salary, paid from the total pool, would increase 3.85 per cent to $137,895.

Councillors agreed the money they forego should be used to offset rates increases.

The full council will consider the recommendation later this month. If the council unanimously accepts the recommendation, it will make a submission to the Remuneration Authority outlining its wish to hold salaries at current levels.

Meanwhile, councilors have agreed to prepare the 2009-2019 Long Term Council Community Plan (LTCCP) and budget for public consultation. On 12 March, the council is expected to sign off on the draft budget proposing total rates revenue of $65.38 million, an increase of 4 per cent to existing ratepayers for the financial year beginning 1 July 2009.

The impact of this increase on ratepayers will vary depending on the value of their property, whether the property has been recently revalued and the services their community receives.

Chairman Peter Buckley said planning for a 10-year period was extremely challenging in the current economic climate, with the council’s own investment fund being hit by the ongoing global economic crisis.

"Given the economic pressures on our community and our own funding, we have focused on holding costs as low as possible over the next few years," he said

The plan identifies six priority areas, including financial sustainability, co-management of the Waikato River with iwi, flood protection and drainage schemes, bus services, continuing investment in science, and maintaining the biodiversity gains from years of investment in pest control.

Budgets that would be significantly reduced or cut included air quality-related work, Clean Streams, waste minimisation schemes and funding for community environmental projects.

"There will be a range of views – some will want us to spend more on protecting the region’s environment, others will want us to spend less," he said.

"There have been significant cuts across the board which will slow or stop work in key areas such as erosion control and pests management operations.

"But in the circumstances, we believe we are proposing a responsible plan and budget."

The council proposes to stop the Clean Streams project from July. Over the past eight years, investment fund returns have been used to fund the project to the tune of up to $1 million-a-year.

But the investment fund will not earn enough to continue the subsidy to help farmers meet the costs of fencing off streams to keep stock out of waterways.

The council has reduced the budgeted $5 million return on its investment fund to $2 million, the amount it can expect to earn from reduced returns on fixed interest investments.

It has also signalled it will be holding staff costs, with Environment Waikato filling only essential vacancies, and reducing consultants and other overhead costs by $1.38m.

The council will formally approve the draft on 12 March, with the consultation period running from 20 March to 20 April 2009. It will then consider public submissions during May, confirming the plan before 1 July.