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. The rate payers have submitted their views and it is clear they want Council to consider affordability and what the priorities are. 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 such as The River Plan.
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. So firstly need to ensure that everyday costs are reasonable and every attempt has been made to be cost effective in the way we deliver services.
I have asked many times;
- Could this/ should this have been identified earlier?
- Was previous Council aware?
- How did Development Contributions come to “mask” that?
- Was too much emphasis place on debt while aging assets suffered?
- How can this be prevented in future?
Even previous Councillors cannot agree. Mayor King said they WERE warned. Garry Mallet said he "Saw it coming" But them again Mr Mallet limits Councils roles to pipes and roads.. 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 especially as we are showing a surplus against previous accounting measures.
Apart from project funding ( I could see many plans had little budget in them), renewals and maintenance ( I was aware that community assets such as Waterworld were aging), the books looked generally sound to me before this term but, PWC's report has changed the way finances are viewed and reported. Without DC's as revenue everything looks less rosy. But why this happened is not 100% clear.
It IS clear to me however,that 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. I do not hold the view of some that Council should not provide for community good assets. With Government focused on the 4 well-beings ( economic, social, cultural and environmental) and my firm belief that people come first I believe our focus should be on building a place for people.
The submissions to the Long Term Plan showed 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.
BUT what is abundantly clear is that everything must be considered against the filter of affordability.