Last Thursday, Council adopted its draft Annual Plan 2023-24, and we’re now seeking feedback from the community. The draft Plan proposes an average districtwide rates increase of 11%, impacting urban and rural properties slightly differently due to the way water services and roading costs are weighted.
There is no doubt that 11% is a big number on top of the rates position we currently have in Central Hawke’s Bay. And at a time when inflation, interest rates and the overall cost of living are adding to the stress for all households and businesses. Cyclone Gabrielle picked an inconvenient moment to arrive!
That’s why we’ve have taken a “cut our cloth” approach to this Annual Plan, focusing on what is important to our community as we rebuild and recover from Cyclone Gabrielle. It has taken the whole team to push, pull, cut, challenge, poke and prod the resulting budget. This is where your elected representatives on Council do some of the most important heavy lifting to try and get the best for ratepayers that we can. Not everyone has time to go back and watch an online Council meeting so I’m going to give you a flavour of the discussion round the table before we adopted our draft Annual Plan. This was the latest in a long series of discussions, both before and after Cyclone Gabrielle.
Repairing our battered roads is going to be a huge part of our recovery. It’s also a key area of focus in our Annual Plan and in the engagement survey which you’ll find from the link on our website, chbdc.govt.nz. Councillor Muggeridge championed more use of reserves to co-fund these repairs and minimise the rating impact. We’ve included this in the plan – but noting that we never know when the next event is coming along and we can’t empty the coffers completely.
Councillors Greer and Aitken also considered the timeframe of the roading programme - could this be extended to a 5-year rather than a 3-year programme, easing pressure on ratepayers? We decided to leave it at three years as we think there is relative urgency and extending it to five could create angst over an even longer period of time!
Councillor Taylor emphasised the need to plan for ongoing resilience in our waters infrastructure such as the Waipukurau Second Supply project, which is intended as a backup for old reservoirs that are in need of replacement. We took into consideration that ongoing three waters improvements will always be needed to meet environmental and consenting standards. Most costs in a current year come from increasing debt, so it’s crucial we align our budget with actual work so we are not over-rating compared to what we can deliver.
While considering our capital programme, the importance of our approach to stormwater management was particularly emphasised by Deputy Mayor Annand. Community recovery conversations right across the district clearly articulated priorities in both roading and stormwater resilience to get us through the coming year. This Annual Plan invests in those priorities while also considering the longer-term impacts of our decisions and also flags that we need ongoing advocacy to the National Transition Unit for support on these kinds of investments, as they strongly connect to the government’s reform programme.
Councillor Exham spoke of his concerns around housing and the wellbeing of the community, both very much part of our recovery conversations. He feels, as we all do, that delivering a realistic, affordable Annual Plan with our community firmly in mind must be our priority while we also engage with central government on other sources of funding. We are considering how other options could be used to support this work, including 'Better Off Funding' from the Three Waters reforms.
Deferring the replacement of rubbish bags with wheelie bins has been a relatively easy cost to defer. Councillor Burne referred to potential solid waste reforms being signalled by central government that may completely change our approach anyway.
Deputy Mayor Annand and Councillor Minehan outlined how they felt Councillors could best support quality engagement on the Annual Plan, acknowledging there is a shorter engagement period than usual due to change in legislation for Councils affected by Cyclone Gabrielle.
I’m very grateful to have a team of such committed, hardworking and community-focused Councillors with me at the Council table as we’ve worked through the implications of our budget for 2023-24. The Annual Plan is one of the most important documents a Council produces, and even more so in these challenging and uncertain times. We’ve removed projects, delayed work, decided not to refill some internal roles, found additional funding options and pushed pretty hard on what we can deliver. Have we got the balance right? Do you think our Annual Plan has captured the post-cyclone priorities of our district and balanced risk against our responsibilities to the community? Please let us know.
24 May 2023
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