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Published: 2013-01-31 00:00:00

The 2013/14 draft budget signed off by Waikato Regional Council today signals a drop in the ‘all-property’ rates and a rise in targeted rates amounting to an average 2.9 per cent increase to existing ratepayers.

After two days of talks, the draft work programme approved for public consultation will be delivered on a proposed rates revenue of $78.253 million, a reduction of $1.3 million on the amount forecast in the 2012-2022 Long Term Plan.

Chairman Peter Buckley said the council had done a superb job on setting the draft budget.

“We have funded on a targeted basis where people have asked for services, while reducing the general rate,” he said.

The targeted rates are set to increase to pay for improvements to flood protection infrastructure and land drainage.

The largest chunk of the increase is to fund a 10-year programme to improve flood protection stopbanks in the Lower Waikato and Waihou-Piako river management schemes.

The work follows a report last year which identified that up to 15 per cent of the Waikato’s 620 kilometres of stopbanks were below appropriate levels for dealing with the most extreme flood events.

The stopbanks are primarily in the Lower Waikato and Waihou-Piako zones and improving their standard to appropriate levels will help avoid the risk of productive farmland, properties and roads being inundated for longer than desired during extreme flood events.

Over the next three financial years $2.2 million is budgeted annually for the high priority works, and it is estimated $22 million could be needed in total over 10 years for improvements.

Councillors agreed that the draft annual plan process for next year was an opportunity to provide information to landowners and the wider community, and get feedback and suggestions on work programmes.

“Stopbanks are a critically important community investment,” said Mr Buckley. “These proposed stopbank improvements represent a large part of our proposed spending increases. They provide protection to extensive areas of farmland and important infrastructure such as State Highway 1.

“We think the proposed works programme strikes a balance between management of risk and the delivery of cost effective work,” he said.

In the biosecurity work programme, the council is proposing to spend an additional $700,000 on pest management next year.

Meanwhile, regional councillors resolved to stand firm on their intention to fund a regional contribution of $650,000 a year to the Animal Health Board until June 2014.

The regional contribution to the AHB helps fund possum control to eradicate bovine Tb.

The council decided last May to continue collecting funds for the regional contribution until June 2014 as it was expected the board would have completed a funding review by that date. However, a staff report said it seemed the review might take longer.

Following discussion, councillors endorsed their earlier resolution to reconsider future funding beyond 2014 once the AHB funding review was completed and any implementation timetable agreed.

Councillors emphasised their support for pest control and the eradication of bovine Tb but say the board needs to examine other funding options so that regional funding may be redirected to other regional priorities.

The council agreed to fund a contract position for two years to work with landowners who want help protecting or enhancing significant natural areas (SNAs) on their properties.

The role would be funded out of the Natural Heritage reserve and would not have any impact on rates. The 2013/14 Draft Annual Plan is due to be to be adopted on 7 March. A public submissions period opens on 12 March and closes at 4pm on Friday 12 April. Hearings are scheduled for 7-10 May 2013.