With the opposing strong views and criticism around City Finances it is no surprise if you are confused or, concerned about the City finances. I am very disappointed about them too. I do not want to burden ratepayers today or in the future with unnecessary rates increases.
I also have concerns about a number of projects and proposals in the Long Term Plan year. I questioned the priorities and how this plan implements existing plans and strategies the public were consulted on ( the River Plan, The Zoo Plan, The Frankton or Hamilton East Plans etc). But the time for hand wringing and muck slinging has passed. It is time to listen to you, the ratepayers. The time for tough decisions is coming.
An early blog made my concerns very clear about the effect of deferred maintenance and renewals and, the lack of identified funding for future focused plans.
I accept that over the last 6 years debt has dropped as was planned, several good plans were created (the River Plan etc) and, some good projects were started or completed(Destination Playgrounds, Victoria on the River, Hamilton Gardens, Western Rail Trail etc).
Multiple reports by independent consultants, PWC, have indicated that we need more money to meet everyday costs. Could this/ should this have been identified earlier? Was previous Council aware? How did Development Contributions “mask” that? I have asked these questions of the previous council and staff a number of times. Even previous Councillors cannot agree. Mayor King said they were warned. Garry Mallet said he "saw it coming". Angela O'Leary and Rob Pascoe were "never told" and in fact they reject in part the idea that the "problem" is as bad as we are told. Apart from project funding, renewals and maintenance, the books looked generally sound to me before this term but PWC's report has changed the way finances are viewed. Without DC's as revenue everything looks less rosy. But why is no 100% clear.
It IS clear to me however we have lots to do to look after the City assets we already have. We know this from Waterworld being run down, and Founders closed. It IS clear we have a role to play in growth and the provision of affordable housing. It IS clear that Hamiltonians want a good city and support some city improvements.
My reading of the submissions so far shows a wide range of views. On the one hand there is the view we should not do anything new for now and get finances under control. On the other hand people want new Riverside experiences, more Hamilton Gardens, another pool and a sports turf, to do more with the libraries, zoo and get another skate park.
Council must now consider and weigh up all the submissions and evidence to steer a correct path, both for the management of the finances and the development of the City. This is where the rubber will hit the road for the next 3 years and more.