Setting sights on the future

Waikato District Council has just adopted its annual plan for the year ahead and has managed to drop the average general rates increase to 11.9 per cent from the 13.75  per cent first proposed.

Guided by public submissions on rates affordability, the council deliberated for three days to find the savings needed.

Crystal Beavis

The rates increase is complicated by the latest rating revaluation which has seen house values in the district rise 21 per cent since October 2020.  (Rates increases will vary for properties that have increased in value by either more or less than the average.)

Now, after taking a one-off opportunity to defer our Long Term Plan (LTP) until the new year, we must set our sights on the future once again.

With many details of the Government’s waters and resource management reforms still to emerge, and with our roading contracts up for review and new local arrangements to be made for waters’ services, we are entering a period of major change.

The council’s last LTP was developed with an expectation of 2-3 per cent inflation levels. Instead, we’ve seen 17 per cent inflation in council costs over the past three years, with construction costs for roads and waters services rising by 27 per cent.

When we first embarked on an LTP for 2024-34, prior to deferring it, there was an expectation that a general rate increase of 13.75 per cent in the first year would be followed by four years of six per cent general rate increases.

So we still need to have serious discussions with ratepayers over service level expectations and affordability.

For example, do we need weekly recycling services?  What library services should we provide?  Can we reduce parks and reserves maintenance without affecting Saturday sports activities?

Keys to a new home. Photo: Oleksandr. Pexels.com

As one of the fastest-growing districts in the country, we must build the infrastructure needed to support new households, while also meeting rising compliance standards to service our existing 33,000 rateable properties.

According to Stats NZ, in the year ending March 2024, Waikato District Council issued 669 new dwelling consents – more than any other North Island territorial authority except for the cities of Auckland, Hamilton and Lower Hutt. We even outstripped residential growth in Tauranga and Wellington.

This level of growth represents huge challenges for a large rural district with a small rating base. It is compounded by other challenges, including economic uncertainty, climate change adaptation, government reform (as mentioned), and even by the democratic process itself as the complexities of local government have risen beyond many people’s understanding.

It’s notable, for example, that the number of submissions during early engagement on the Keeping of Animals Bylaw outstripped the number of submissions on the Annual Plan.

It’s essential we keep ratepayers informed and engaged as we embark on planning for the future, and as we ask for ratepayer guidance on all sorts of standards in different areas of life for which we hold councils responsible.

Dare I mention, therefore, that along with the new draft Keeping of Animals Bylaw, we are also reviewing our policies on Gambling Venues, and on Road Closures for Motor Sports Events.  Submissions on all three close on July 29.

The Future? Photo: Tomas Ryant. pexels.com

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