The way in which Waitomo Mayor John Robertson announced the district is planning a nil rates increase for the coming financial year did not escape criticism from its councillors.
Robertson made the announcement at the extraordinary council meeting on Friday morning where the council approved its draft Long Term Plan (LTP), subject to audit, before going out to public consultation.
For the next financial year the rates in the district will be held at a zero increase: “With just a slight decrease overall,” he said in his mayoral report.
It was the mayor’s referral to “stubborn debt” of $40 million incurred in the early 2000s which was criticised by deputy mayor Guy Whitaker, who also took the mayor to task over his referring to future uncertainties.
Having a $40m debt should be celebrated, Whitaker said. The 2018-28 Long Term Plan forecast the council debt would be $48m, with the forecast debt by 2028 at $24 million.
The proposed draft plan has the debt remaining at or near the $40 million mark for the next three years. It is just under $40m because of deferred capital expenditure, Robertson said.
The forecast in the draft plan is to bring the debt down to $30 million over the 10 years, but Robertson said there were uncertainties because of government plans to take council water assets, and the effects of Covid-19 on inflation and interest rates.
Whitaker said staff and elected members worked very hard to give probably the most reliable Long Term Plan available, formed by the best known assumptions.
“This is the same for every council throughout New Zealand also dealing with those same assumptions,” he said.
“This year’s zero rates increase is possible due to the prudent investment over the last 15 years in infrastructure, when many councils are now forecasting up to 14 percent rate increases due to underinvestment,” he said.
“I do think that this council has been very prudent.”
Councillor Phil Brodie said the fact Waitomo District had a rates revenue requirement less than the previous year, subject to audit, should absolutely be celebrated.
“I think in the history of Waitomo District Council, this must be the first year the rate revenue requirement is less than what it was the previous year, so that means a rate reduction. And I also suspect we may be the only council in NZ this year that is going to achieve that.
“I think that is something that should be celebrated in this community, there should be a fanfare and trumpeting it from the roof. We seem to be handling it in very dour and unspectacular manner.”
He also took the mayor to task on the debt, printing out the debt forecasts from the last three Long Term Plans, and the actual debt results.
In all years apart from 2012, the actual debt was lower than the amount predicted in the plans.
“You talk about stubborn debt because it remains the same as what it was in 2010, but that overlooks the fact that it peaked at $47m of debt in 2012,” Brodie said.
The 2018 LTP had forecast debt to be $48m, when it was now just under $40m.
The approved draft plan has the debt remaining about $40 million for the next three years until it starts dropping down over years four and five to $30 million, and to about $15m by the of the 2021-31 plan.
Local Democracy Reporting