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More regional services to boost environmental and economic bottom line

Waikato Regional Council yesterday finalised the budget for the Draft 2012-2022 Long Term Plan, with a particular focus on improving water quality, marine planning, improving civil defence capability, and increasing river catchment and drainage services.

Over three days, councillors discussed and debated the relative merits of 142 programmes and projects designed to help achieve the council’s three strategic goals of sustaining land and water values, regional development and co-management with iwi.

Chairman Peter Buckley said the council had developed a sound budget that allowed for improved core services delivery and new work aimed at promoting the region’s environmental and economic priorities. 

The final draft budget is based on proposed total rates revenue of $76.6 million, an estimated 3.9 per cent rates increase to existing ratepayers for the financial year beginning 1 July 2012. The second and third years of the plan forecast rates increases of 3.4 per cent. 

The 3.9 per cent increase for year one of the plan includes:

  • 1.6 per cent allowance for inflation
  • 0.1 per cent to cover the cost of taking over responsibility for drainage schemes transferred from Franklin and Waikato districts
  • 0.7 per cent for the national cycling centre of excellence at Cambridge
  • 0.7 per cent for the transfer of civil defence costs from local councils to the regional council and increased resourcing.  

The big cost drivers include:

  • A significant boost to the region’s disaster response capabilities with an extra $515,000 for civil defence, including the appointment of four additional staff.
  • Catchment liaison committees have requested significant increases in the levels of service across several land drainage and flood protection areas amounting to approximately $1.1 million in 2012/13. Services are on average 85 per cent funded on a user pays basis, with 15 per cent of the costs being met by all ratepayers to recognise the wider public good of protecting people, property and the environment from flood risk.
  • Aligned with the council’s flood management responsibilities, the council increased provision for flood event response by $160,000 a year.
  • The need for the council to accelerate and increase work on improving the region’s water quality as a result of new central government water policies, Crown-iwi co-management legislation, the Waikato Regional Policy Statement and community expectations. The current $2.66m budget will increase to $3.53m in 2012/13.
  • Implementation of the council’s new policy for allocating water use rights in the region is likely to result in a big increase in consent applications for water takes and use, requiring an extra $580,000. A proportion of costs will be recovered by way of consent revenue.
  • An extra $819,000 over three years for work focused on marine planning and environmental improvement programmes in the Hauraki Gulf
  • Continuation of the $825,000 for the Animal Health Board (AHB) for one year. This rate only applies to landowners on properties greater than two hectares. From 2013/14, the council is proposing to cease collection of the rate and has indicated to the AHB that this last year of funding will provide time to transition to an alternative funding mechanism.
  • Increased annual spend on priority possum control work in year two of $760,000 and a further $440,000 in year three.

Offsetting the impact of the service increases on rates is:

  • increasing the user-pays proportion of the cost of processing consents from 72.5 per cent to 80 per cent over three years
  • progressively increasing the proportion of annual consent charges for information gathering being shifted from the general rate to users who create the requirement for resource monitoring
  • in rivers and catchment services, smoothing of rate increases over three years using reserves.

User pays will also become increasingly important for transport funding, which presents a real challenge to the council. Over the years there’s been a significant rise in bus passenger numbers due to a substantial increase in investment and the provision of new services, especially in Hamilton. However, growth has started to slow over the past 18 months and in the short to medium term there will be no additional NZTA funding for Waikato’s public transport services. The Government expects the council to increase the amount recovered from passenger fares from 34 per cent to 50 per cent over six years.

Looking forward, one per cent passenger growth is forecast in years one and two, with no growth over the remaining life of the plan.

The council’s projections reflect no new services due to the NZTA funding cap, annual fare increases of five per cent a year over the life of the plan, and indications Hamilton City Council will be unable to provide significant funding for new infrastructure.

The council also decided to include a new building project in the Draft 2012-2022 Long Term Plan, with construction on council-owned land in Grey St possibly starting in September 2015 following the expiry of the lease of the tavern premises on the site and the completion of required planning, design and contractual work. The new building is required to help achieve a range of productivity gains while reducing maintenance and other costs. Funding options for this work will be considered at the February 23 council meeting.

Council staff will now prepare the Draft Long Term Plan for council adoption on 21 March 2012.

The consultation period runs from 27 March to 27 April 2012. People should look out for the summary of the plan and the submission form in the special edition of the council’s Your Waikato publication delivered to all letterboxes in the region. The council will consider public submissions during May before adopting the final plan on 28 June.

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