An average rate rise to existing ratepayers of 2.6 per cent is being proposed by Waikato Regional Council for next financial year, reflecting a tight focus on keeping costs under control while providing extra where necessary for various projects.
It follows detailed discussions at a council meeting over two days, with the rise and overall budget approved by a 7 to 4 majority of councillors present today.
The suggested rise in the draft 2017-18 annual plan – due to be confirmed by the council in May after some targeted consultation – would see a rates revenue of $83.92 million. Projected growth in new properties of 1.4 per cent would contribute to the rating pool and the actual impact of the rates rise on individual existing properties would vary depending on any property revaluations.
“We have made every effort to hold the line on spending, while recognising that it is important to provide extra in a range of areas, one of these being investing in preparedness for implementing the proposed Plan Change 1, Healthy Rivers Wai Ora, where the majority of councillors agreed we need to provide funding for initial work,” said council chair Alan Livingston.
Preparation for implementing proposed Plan Change 1 was a key budgetary consideration. The budget includes spending $1.68 million on information technology systems to support the collection of data and the initial implementation costs are budgeted at $1.06 million. Following receipt of independent economic advice assessing the ongoing benefits, these costs are to be spread over a ten year period, resulting in a rates funding requirement of $358,000 in 2017-18. This implementation work will help council, industry, land owners and others to be ready for when the plan change is operational.
Some councillors felt that the costs for implementation preparedness for Proposed Plan Change 1 should not be provided for in the budget at this stage given that the plan change statutory submission process is still underway. But other councillors noted that starting work soon to prepare for implementation is required to ensure that the council is able to meet legal obligations in regard to plan implementation further down the track. A 7 to 5 majority of councillors agreed to the first stage of the proposed plan change implementation budget yesterday.
Chief executive Vaughan Payne said the budgeted implementation spending was focused on fundamental actions that the council would be required to be do, regardless of the final outcome of the plan hearings. “For example, it makes sense for us to be working with others to develop standards for industry schemes and farm environment plans.”
There was also discussion at the meeting about whether the draft budget, particularly that component related to implementation of the proposed plan change, should go out for public consultation.
While people can make submissions on the plan change under a Resource Management Act (RMA) process, some councillors felt the public should get a chance to have a greater say on whether implementation funding should be set aside in such formative stages of the proposed plan timing. Others considered that it is important to council to start preparing for the plan change, and also noted the potential for confusion of any annual plan engagement with the RMA submission process, and, further, felt the rating impact was not significant enough.
Following staff advice that actual budget variations from the long term plan were not significant enough to trigger consultation requirements, a majority agreed that there should only be targeted consultation over a flood protection scheme at Tauhei.
It was noted that those wanting to have a say over the Healthy Rivers Wai Ora plan change proposal could make submissions up until 8 March.
Other items of extra expenditure approved included:
- $500,000 increase in funding for the implementation of catchment works in Waipa, in conjunction with the Waikato River Authority
- $164,000 for costs related to the establishment of a new centre for Waikato Civil Defence Emergency Management Office operations in Hamilton.
- $100,000 for extra passenger transport marketing
- $50,000 to scope harbour and catchment planning works on the West Coast.