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Proposed regional council rates rise stays under 3 per cent

Waikato regional councillors have today kept the proposed rate rise for current ratepayers at under three per cent for the 2017-18 annual plan following consideration of new information from staff on cost increases.

The rate of increase proposed is 2.9 per cent compared to an earlier suggested annual plan figure of 2.6 per cent made public in February. It is due to be formally adopted next month.

The 2.9 per cent enables the maintenance of essential services and accommodates new cost pressures, particularly for increased depreciation in flood protection assets as a result of asset revaluation increases, chairman Alan Livingston said after the council meeting.

“Councillors worked hard to keep the overall rate of increase at a reasonable level. We’ve had average rises at 0.3 per cent over the past four years, ranging from plus 1.3 per cent to negative 1.3 per cent. But we have had to go over that for next year to maintain current services as best we can in the face of significant new cost pressures.

“I think the 2.9 per cent rise strikes a good balance between keeping rates down as much as we can while providing important services, especially ones focused on keeping the community and the environment safe,” said Mr Livingston.

The biggest extra item approved was an estimated extra $530,000 for depreciation funding after a recent three-yearly revaluation of council assets. This primarily relates to flood protection in the Waihou and Piako rivers zones, which saw heavy rainfall and flooding in recent months.

Another important extra item approved was $140,000 for two full time incident response staff to replace temporary staff. “Their employment will allow the maintenance of current levels of service in responding to the likes of public complaints about environmental pollution incidents,” said Mr Livingston.

Other significant new items being rated under the 2.9 per cent increase include:

  • $200,000 for computer licence fees
  • $113,000 to cover the cost of hiring a new group recovery manager for Civil Defence.
  • $129,000 in operational depreciation funding

Offsetting increased costs is the utilisation of reserve funding for central zone river management works in Hamilton city, given the healthy reserves balance.

A report to council noted that $100,000 in already allocated funding would be carried over from this year to next for implementation of the Healthy Rivers Wai Ora Plan Change 1 for the Waikato and Waipa rivers.

“Our spreading costs of initial implementation for this ongoing key plan change over 10 years is helping us ease upward pressure on annual rate rises, and reflects the period of benefit the set up costs relate to,” said Mr Livingston.

In February, the council reported significant investment in preparing for the plan change, including $1.68 million on information technology and $1.06 million for initial implementation costs.

Other key items of extra expenditure reported then included:

  • $500,000 for catchment works in Waipa, in conjunction with the Waikato River Authority
  • $164,000 for costs related to establishing a new centre of Waikato Civil Defence Emergency Management Office operations in Hamilton
  • $100,000 for additional passenger transport marketing.

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