Wednesday, June 26, 2024

Waikato council signs off on 10-year ‘efficiency’ plan

After four days of talks, Waikato Regional Councillors have signed off on a proposed 10-year budget which includes a 6% rates rise for ratepayers in 2024/25.

Councillors heard how the proposed increase in the first year of the 2024-2034 Long Term Plan had been heavily influenced by a 5.7% increase in baseline costs.

Council Chief Executive, Chris McLay said the organisation was committed to putting forward a long-term plan focused on resilience and efficiency.

“The reality of high inflation is that we’re having to spend more to continue delivering the same services, just as we know the cost of living for our ratepayers has gone up,” said Mr McLay.

“But we also know we must keep moving forward to meet the expectations of our communities and the challenges ahead, so we are proposing some new work in areas we believe matter most.”

Chair Pamela Storey (pictured) says the new plan recognises the need for financial prudence to address affordability issues throughout the community.

“Our organisation has statutory obligations that must be met and areas of significant concern and interest to our wider community that need to be responded to,” she said.

“We are proposing to invest more in biodiversity and biosecurity, protecting and preserving taonga species and locations in our region. We’ve recognised that one of the most effective ways of doing that is in partnership with other organisations and groups committed to undertaking this work alongside us.

“We have also recognised investment in science to provide an evidence-based foundation for our policies and decision making, and that ensuring well-planned and effective public transport, in all of its forms, is vitally important.”

Maritime officer numbers have also been bolstered in the proposed budget to ease the load on the team keeping our waterways safe, she said.

During consultation proposed from 2 April to 2 May, the Council will seek feedback on:

  • funding of $500,000 per annum for three years for Te Waka economic development agency;
  • ceasing the regional development fund established in 2015;
  • picking up the rating of public transport from local councils.

In a statement, the Council says a draft infrastructure strategy adopted by councillors makes it clear the way infrastructure is invested in, managed and paid for must fundamentally change.

“Over the next 50 years, it is expected over $1 billion would be needed for the replacement of some assets, and a further $1.87 billion on ongoing operating and maintenance costs, and depreciation,” it said.

Chair Storey said that simply replacing or repairing assets, as has been done previously, may no longer be economically or environmentally sustainable, affordable, or workable.

“So we are planning for the future for our ever-growing population, the climate resilience of our communities and the productive capacity of our economy and we are not shying away from the hard conversations, such as how we provide for cost-effective, affordable infrastructure,” she said.

Councillors heard that the council’s borrowing profile would see a substantial increase over the term of the LTP up to $122 million, with the proposed capital works programme for flood protection and drainage being the main driver.

The capital works programme would focus on much needed projects to maintain and upgrade the council’s $1.2 billion worth of infrastructure assets, 15% of which the report noted were currently in “poor or very poor” condition, the Council said.

Councillors also agreed to a staff recommendation that part of a prior year surplus of funds, amounting to $3.8 million, be used to fund important strategic scoping work.

“Key areas of focus included water security management, a review of how infrastructure is funded, future public transport improvements, options for the rehabilitation of Lake Waikare and the Whangamarino Wetland, and development of a spatial plan business case, in conjunction with other councils, that will support new public transport investment.”

Councillors also decided to introduce a 20% increase in fares for bus users, designed to help keep general rates down.

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