“Yesterday I chaired the very important meeting which saw our Council confirming an annual average rates rise of 2.8 per cent for the coming 2020/21 year.
The increase is one per cent lower than what had originally been proposed in our draft Annual Plan, and lower than what we had forecast in our 10-Year Plan.
We received 198 formal submissions on the draft Plan, all of them very welcome. Thank you to those people who engaged with us, and provided important feedback.
Feedback does make a difference; that was clear in yesterday’s discussions which saw a number of things raised by the community on the table for discussion.
One was the total rates rise of course. A number of you, via formal submissions or other channels like Facebook, made it clear you wanted us to pull back on rates. We listened and we did. Not all Councillors agreed this was the right course of action and in fact I used my casting vote to get a lower rates rise over the line.
Other issues were also raised by our community as part of the Annual Plan process. They included requests for ‘new’ money for things like Waikato Food Inc (which following their submission, was provided with a $40,000 grant).
Yesterday’s meeting also heard that since our Annual Plan went out for consultation, Council’s financial position had improved. The impact of Covid-19 on our growth revenue was reassessed with our budget revised to increase Council revenue by $5 million.
This meant that during deliberations yesterday, Council confirmed funding in response to COVID-19 including money for a community welfare package ($465,000), rent and rates relief to community groups ($104,000 in total), funding for an economic innovation project ($100,000) and the extension of the Council Rates Rebate scheme for residential ratepayers ($280,000). Funding for local business support ($250,000) was also approved.
All up an additional $1.2 million of support for ratepayers, businesses and community groups struggling with the impact of COVID-19 has been provided by the Council to our city.
Additional funding was also added to support the Economic Development and Environment Committees which I established at the beginning of my Mayoralty to provide much more focus on these critical areas.
Council also agreed to put an additional $100,000 into gully restoration and continue funding city safe surburban response for another year.
Yesterday, an additional $353,000 was also approved to pay all staff directly employed by the Council a Living Wage ($22.10 per hour) for the coming year.
But of course, some things were cut from our budget – that’s how it works. Some capital projects were deferred, including the River Plan boardwalk, rejuvenation of the transport centre and some infrastructure work in our Peacocke and Rotokauri growth cells.
Despite that, Council will continue with nearly $302.8 million worth of capital projects to help get the local economy back on track, while catering for growth. Investments means jobs and right now, that is a key focus for me in our city.
Money was also saved by postponing the demolition of the Municipal Pool by a year ($600,000). And digitising the library heritage collection was put on hold, saving $250,000.
We pulled a lot of levers to drive rates down while continuing to invest in and support the city. I want to thank Council staff for the work they did in responding to Councillor requests to find more savings, and think differently about what we could do.
COVID-19 has thrown us a curve ball and we have been forced to be agile and adapt accordingly. But while I am pleased at being able to lower rates for the coming year. we will need to keep a firm grip on the 2021-31 10-Year Plan.
A lot of water is to go under the bridge yet, but there may indeed be a case for pulling back in terms of quantum and speed of spend. We can’t be afraid to do things differently and to take a hard look at fundamentals including how our City responds to growth.
Some of the sentiments expressed by submitters in the Annual Plan process just finished have been ‘parked’ but will certainly not be forgotten. They will be considered as we start to develop our 10-Year Plan. This is a real opportunity to shape our city for the future and in particular the next three years before the Plan is reviewed again.
So please, when the opportunity for feedback comes in the future (on any issue) I do urge you to take it. When I was elected I promised that our community would have a greater say, earlier, in decisions of Council.
I am determined to keep that promise.”