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Published: 2012-05-30 00:00:00

Waikato Regional Council today signed off on its 2012-2022 Long Term Plan, cutting more than $770,000 from next year’s proposed budget while maintaining a range of service improvements.

Chairman Peter Buckley said the council had developed a sound plan to advance the region’s environmental and economic priorities.

“We have done a good job of containing costs while improving services to our communities across a range of activities such as water management, pest management, coastal area planning, civil defence and river catchment and drainage work,” Cr Buckley said.

The draft plan that went out for community consultation in March proposed an average 3.9 per cent rates increase to existing ratepayers for the financial year beginning 1 July 2012. However, this was reduced to 3.4 per cent after three days of deliberations ending today.

Councillors reduced the second and third year budgets by $1.14 million, arriving at forecast rates increases of 3.9 per cent and 3.8 per cent respectively to existing ratepayers.

During deliberations councillors debated the 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.

They also took into account 559 written submissions and those of the 120 people who appeared before them during three days of hearings in Hamilton and Thames earlier this month. 

The 3.4 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.  

After considerable debate, the council decided to reduce the amount of money it collects from rural ratepayers on behalf of the Animal Health Board (AHB), but to extend the collection period from one to two years.

The council had proposed to continue collecting the $825,000 requested by the AHB for the 2012/13 year only.

However, the council decided today to reduce the amount to $650,000 but to extend the assistance to the AHB by a further year, continuing the collection in 2013/14 giving the AHB more time to transition to an alternative funding mechanism.

The reduction in the amount collected maintains funding for the council’s own biodiversity enhancement programmes which was to have been cut in order to release funds for the AHB work.

Key services and costs in the plan 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 
  • significant increases in the levels of service across several land drainage and flood protection areas amounting to approximately $2.4 million in 2012/13. These were in response to in response to catchment liaison committee requests. 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.
  • 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 $2.66 million budget will increase to $3.545 million in 2012/13.
  • implementation of the council’s new policy for allocating water use rights in the region, which is likely to result in a big increase in consent applications for water takes and use and require 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
  • increased annual spend on priority possum control work in year two of $982,000 and a further $651,000 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 and biosecurity, the use of reserve funds to smooth rate increases.

The council also decided to defer planning, design and contractual work on a proposed new building in Hamilton pending further information about local government reform. This means $1.53 million budgeted for preliminary scoping and design work has been removed from the 2012/13 and 2013/14 budgets.

Extra frontline staff required to undertake activities required by legislation or requested by the community resulted in a proposal to increase staff numbers by 33.1 full time equivalents in 2012/13. This has been reduced to 29.6 full time equivalents, with the some of the required work to be contracted out.

The council will adopt the final plan on Thursday 28 June after audit review.