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Budget provides greater investment in biosecurity, flood protection

Waikato regional councillors have confirmed a 10 year budget which invests more heavily in biosecurity and flood protection, as well as in a regional theatre and interregional passenger rail service.

It follows two days of deliberations, which concluded on Tuesday (29 May) after considering the submissions of more than 300 individuals, organisations and groups on eight proposals released for feedback in March.

As a result, there will be a 4.1 per cent average general rates revenue increase from current ratepayers in 2018/19 – the equivalent of less than $50 for the majority of regional ratepayers. General rates are forecast to rise by 5.2 per cent in 2019/20 and 3.5 per cent in the third year of the 2018-2028 Long Term Plan.

Council chair Alan Livingston said: “Through this long term plan the council will be providing higher levels of service for things such as biosecurity and catchment works. We’ve had to be realistic. With pest plant and animal control, for example, it was clear we had to invest more if we were to keep on top of threats to our region.

“In making our decisions we were very mindful that some of our ratepayers in the Lower Waikato and Waihou Piako catchments were going to be especially affected by increases to targeted rates. We were totally transparent with those people and they will accept, albeit reluctantly, that local flood protection comes with a cost,” Cr Livingston said.

“I’d like to especially thank those 111 submitters who took the opportunity to present to councillors over four days of hearings in Hamilton and Paeroa. It provides an invaluable opportunity for us to better understand the views of our community.”

Cr Livingston added: “It’s been a robust process and the tenor of the debate by councillors over the two days, despite sometimes differing views, has been very civil.”

Council chief executive Vaughan Payne said: “It has been a long journey to develop this 10 year plan and, while there’s still work to do, there’s a major milestone reached this week. We do need to put the rates rise in the context of very low rates increases over the past four years.

“This isn’t a business as usual long term plan. There are meaty issues we have to tackle for the region, and they require new thinking and innovative ways of addressing them,” Mr Payne said.

During deliberations councillors agreed to use investment fund returns to maintain the rates subsidy and not increase funding for regional development. Councillors also voted in favour of spreading the funding of depreciation on our assets over three years to help spread the catchment rate increases.

Freshwater management was among the organisation’s many other business as usual priorities that have also been budgeted for. That includes finalising and implementing Healthy Rivers/Wai Ora: Plan Change 1, as well as scoping the implementation of a freshwater strategy to ensure the best use of the region’s water now and into the future.

The following sets out other key decisions made by councillors.

Regional theatre

The council agreed to contribute $5 million to the capital cost of a regional theatre in Hamilton. This will be funded by way of a targeted rate over regional ratepayers, excluding Hamilton.  

Waikato, Waipā and Matamata-Piako ratepayers, who have been assessed as primary beneficiaries, will pay $5.54 per property per year. Ratepayers from Thames-Coromandel, Hauraki, Ōtorohanga, South Waikato, Taupō and the portion of Rotorua in our region will pay 50 cents per property per year.

The decision is subject to Hamilton City Council confirming its funding of $25 million towards the capital cost.

During deliberations the council also agreed that a funding deed would be developed for the council’s approval. It will require a number of issues to be addressed to the satisfaction of the council prior to any funding being released.

Biosecurity work

The biosecurity rate will increase over the first three years of the long term plan to ensure the current pest control programme is delivered and there is money to properly address high risk pests.

High risk pests include wallabies, kauri dieback, velvetleaf, alligator weed and yellow flag iris.

Having considered submissions, councillors voted unanimously in favour of budgeting $60,000 per annum over three years for a pest fish coordinator. The funding is subject to an equivalent amount being provided by the Department of Conservation. The coordinator will be responsible for overseeing the coordination of programmes to manage invasive pest fish, especially koi carp, in the Waikato.

Hamilton-Auckland passenger rail service

Funding for a start-up Hamilton to Auckland passenger rail service has been included in year 2 of the plan following a vote of 11-1.

It is subject to securing funding of no less than 75 per cent from the NZ Transport Agency for the operational costs of the service. If approved, the service would likely start in October 2019 and be funded by way of fares, a NZ Transport Agency subsidy and rates via a $20 uniform charge, plus $2.24 per $100,000 of capital value capped at $2.5 million, on Hamilton ratepayers.

During the meeting councillors heard that a demand survey indicates usage of the passenger rail service is likely to be higher than first thought.

Catchment new works

An increase in catchment rates was approved to enable the council to meet the high demand from the community and stakeholders for planning support and funding of catchment activities, such as soil conservation, erosion prevention and stream protection works to protect land and water. The increased budget will also enable the council to take advantage of available third party co-funding opportunities. 

Regional Emergency Services Fund

Councillors voted in favour of increasing the regional emergency services fund rate to $4.13 per property per year – a rise of 39 cents. This means local Land Search and Rescue (LandSAR) will be included as a beneficiary of the fund and the contribution to surf life saving will rise to address the increase in demand for services at Hot Water Beach.

Community Facilities Framework

A framework for assessing who should contribute to funding regional sports, recreation, cultural and arts facilities was not adopted by councillors. Of the 113 submissions received on the proposal, 42 per cent didn’t support the framework, with 52 per cent in favour of it being adopted.

Editor’s note: Two councillors were absent on day one of deliberations, with one councillor absent on day two.

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