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Published: 2011-01-25 00:00:00

Carbon farming, commuter rail, spatial planning and civil defence will be among the issues debated at next week's council meeting to set the draft budget for the 2011/12 financial year.

Chief executive Bob Laing said councillors would be starting their discussions on a draft budget forecasting an overall rates increase of 1.9 per cent to existing ratepayers.

Mr Laing highlighted the potential for further items to be added to the proposed rates revenue requirement of $71.81 million by the time the council had finalised the draft budget for public consultation.

"Staff have presented a preliminary budget for councillors’ consideration but there is still approximately $300,000 unbudgeted that will be up for discussion," he said.

Councillors are being asked to consider several new projects including the proposed regional carbon strategy. A provisional sum of $50,000 is sought to advance the concept which aims to support New Zealand’s response to climate change emissions.

EW staff reports say farmers could improve profitability of their marginal land and have a positive impact on the environment by planting their steep and erosion-prone land in trees for carbon credits or allowing it to revert naturally to native bush.

A new workstream aimed at positioning the Waikato region to maximise the economic advantages of being part of the ‘golden triangle’ with Auckland and Bay of Plenty is also up for discussion.

As part of this proposal, funding of $100,000 is requested to start the development of a Waikato spatial plan. A spatial plan is a map showing existing and future location and mix of residential, business, rural and industrial activities, critical infrastructure, services and investment, hazard zones, historic heritage areas and recreational and green spaces.

The Hamilton to Auckland commuter rail service will also be discussed. The multi-agency working group set up to look at the feasibility of the service recently called for three options to be investigated. If logistical, operational and infrastructural details can be worked through, a twice-daily train service could be up and running next year, but only if there is community support for funding it.

Although the working group did not support a staff recommendation for additional funding in the 2011/12 year, EW staff have signalled there is a possibility funding might be required for further planning work prior to July 2012.

Councillors are being asked to approve a total budget of $355,000 for EW’s contribution to the region’s Civil Defence and Emergency Management Group to help the region be better prepared for handling emergencies.

Earlier this year, a Ministry of Civil Defence and Emergency Management report identified areas where the Waikato needed to make improvements in its emergency management structures and processes. The report said the Waikato managed local, short-term emergencies well but improvements were needed to ensure effective management of longer-term and region wide situations.

Significant capital requirements include a proposal for a new real time information system for bus users and building repairs.

Further work is underway to better assess the cost of repairing water damage to EW’s main Hamilton offices in Grey Street as a result of defective external cladding. An initial estimate for repairing the building is $1.4 million to $1.79 million (inclusive of GST) but further work is required to determine a budget figure. Staff are proposing that the $597,000 surplus from the 2009/10 financial year could be set aside to fund repairs once the cost is known.

The budget discussions are scheduled for three days from 1 – 3 February 2011. Councillors are scheduled to adopt the Draft Annual Plan on 10 March.

EW will consult with the public on the plan from 25 March to 26 April. It will hear submissions 16-20 May before adoption of the Annual Plan on 29 June.