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4.2 per cent rates rise proposed for increased service levels

Waikato Regional Council's draft 10 year budget has been signed off, with a proposed average rates rise of 4.2 per cent to existing ratepayers in year 1 to meet the demand for increased services.  

However, the rates burden could be much higher for some, with targeted catchment and biosecurity rates due to rise by an average of 11.8 per cent.

But this percentage increase in targeted rates will be more for landowners in the Lower Waikato and Waihou-Piako zones due to a range of factors, including increased catchment works and the increased costs of renewing and maintaining council flood protection assets.

The council has tried to minimise the increases in rates as a result of these costs by spreading the depreciation funding over the first three years of the 2018-2028 Long Term Plan.

The adoption of the draft budget follows almost four days of talks by councillors, who had to make some tough calls when planning for the next 10 years, said chair Alan Livingston.

“Renewing and maintaining flood infrastructure carries hefty costs, but it’s vital we invest in it to protect people, productive farmland and roads,” he said.

“There are also some areas of work that simply cannot be deferred any longer, particularly around catchment management. This is vital work that helps to reduce the risk of soil erosion, sediment getting into waterways and flooding, and improve water quality, river stability and river environments,” Cr Livingston said.

“We’ve been mindful of the impact on our ratepayers, but we need to run an effective business and meet the expectations of our communities to deliver more.

“This situation is not unique to the Waikato. Local government right around New Zealand is being asked to deliver greater levels of service, and this is reflected in significantly higher rates rises some other regions are facing,” Cr Livingston said. 

The 2018-2028 Draft Long Term Plan includes provision for new leased council accommodation, given the existing Hamilton East building is no longer fit for purpose.

Cr Livingston added that the 10 year work programme reflected a focus on the council’s mission of working with others to build a future for the Waikato that can be enjoyed for generations to come.

The draft budget was approved for consultation by a 9 to 3 majority of councillors present Friday (2 February). Submissions on the 2018-2028 Draft Long Term Plan will open for a month from Friday, March 16, with the plan to be confirmed by the council following hearings and deliberations in May.

It’s proposed in year 2 of the plan that the average rates increase will be 4.1 per cent and targeted rates will rise by 11.7 per cent. The following year, in 2020/21, the average rates increase will be 3.6 per cent, with targeted rates to rise by 10.2 per cent. These figures exclude inflation.

The following are some of the key topics within the budget that the council is seeking feedback on:

Waikato Regional Theatre:

The council has been asked to contribute $5 million towards building a world-class theatre in Victoria Street, Hamilton and $300,000 annually for asset maintenance. The capital costs would be funded over a 20 year period.  It would involve rating properties in Waikato, Waipa and Matamata-Piako districts for $4.5 million ($10.26 per property), and then applying a regional rate for the remaining $500,000 ($0.93 per property). Hamilton ratepayers will not be rated by the regional council. This funding will only apply in full from year three.

Commuter rail service from Hamilton to Auckland:

At the request of Hamilton City Council, the regional council is seeking feedback on an interim rail solution between Hamilton and Auckland. The interim solution would include two return services a day leaving from the Hamilton train station in Frankton, and arriving at the Papakura train station in Auckland. A minimum government contribution of 75 per cent of the cost will be sought, in line with their election promise. The impact on Hamilton ratepayers will be an average $25 for a $400,000 property.

Regional emergency services fund:

The council is proposing to include Land Search and Rescue (LandSAR) as a beneficiary of the fund – first set up two years ago – to address a shortfall for equipment and training costs. In addition, it’s proposed to increase the amount of funding to Surf Life Saving Northern Region by $25,000 a year to cover an extended season for two regional lifeguards at Hot Water Beach. The proposal could see the per property rates contribution rise from $3.74 to the preferred option of $4.13. 

Biosecurity:

The council heard that funding to tackle pest animals and plants has not increased for three years. However, more money is needed to enable the council to keep doing what it has been, as well as to address the growing threat of pests like dama wallabies, alligator weed, possums, velvetleaf and kauri dieback. An increase on the biosecurity rate of 11 per cent is proposed to meet this growing need.

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