Waikato Regional Council has approved its draft 10-year budget for consultation, which proposes increased services with a 0.2 per cent rates increase in the first year.
Council chairperson Paula Southgate said: “Councillors and staff have worked together to draft a progressive yet prudent plan that responds to the public’s desire to improve water quality and see regional economic growth.
“There have been lively discussions with a wide range of views canvassed during the four day meeting, but we worked constructively together to reach agreement, with the draft budget being unanimously approved today,” Cr Southgate said.
“We're proposing significant new investment in work to improve water quality and protect our coastal and marine areas, while keeping the rates increase at a very low 0.2 per cent.
“Our consultation kicks off for a month from March 14 and this is the time for people to tell us what they think of our proposals,” she said.
The council’s works programme for 2015/16 will be delivered on a rates revenue of $80.126 million. There will be no increase in rates in 2016/17, and rates for 2017/18 are projected to rise by 0.6 per cent.
The low rates increase is due in part to the successful completion of the Protecting Lake Taupō project, which means the rate will be halved in the 2015/16 year and stop completely in 2016/17.
The council has also made $1.6 million in efficiency savings.
A regional development fund is being proposed for feedback from the community to support development at a regional scale. It is proposed that money for the fund comes from returns on the council’s investment fund, after subsidising rates and allowing for inflation-proofing.
After some debate, councillors voted in favour of providing $300,000 per annum over three years for the world-renowned Maungatautari Ecological Island, funded from the natural heritage rate. Councillors also agreed to advocate for greater Government support for the project.
Cr Southgate said there was “considerable debate” around the uniform annual general charge (UAGC) and what services it should fund. Council decisions resulted in a proposed increase in this charge. It means rates assessed on a per rating unit basis will increase from $70 to approximately $87. These rates include the UAGC, natural heritage rate and civil defence emergency management group funding. The UAGC is a flat charge applied to all properties in the Waikato region.
The council also decided against a request from OSPRI to collect a rate on its behalf for vector possum control. Councillors said they did not believe that rates are the appropriate mechanism for funding the activity.
The 2015-2025 Long Term Plan consultation document will be adopted at a council meeting on 12 March, with consultation to run from 14 March to 14 April.