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Readers will be aware of the long and often acrimonious campaign waged during the previous council to reverse the illogical and ill-conceived 2003 motion to institute district wide uniform charging for wastewater, well before the Eastern seaboard plants had been properly costed.

Staff provided information to a recent Council workshop on the issue that may have reflected their own particular bias that has been evident since the outset of the discussion in 2008. Comparisons with transport and roading were made that are in my view totally inappropriate, and the precursor to an attempt to extend “One District” charging to water, to the utter disadvantage of ratepayers outside of Tairua-Pauanui where a substantial commitment to a new water scheme is pending. 

New Board and Council members should thoroughly familiarise themselves with this issue, so that they can undertstand the reasoning behind the 30 June 2010 majority decision to review wastewater charging.

By way of a brief background, the decision to adopt “One District” charging for wastewater was made in 2003 on the basis that the cost of the new schemes would be no greater than $26.6m. But by the time the actual business case was completed in 2005, a cost of $62.5m was indicated – later increasing to over $90m. This was due mainly to additional peripheral works resulting from conditions imposed by the Environment Court following appeals lodged by affected Eastern ward ratepayers.

Council at the time should have had regard to the provisions of the LGA that require further consultation when such significant cost "blow-outs" become evident, but failed to do so, relying instead on the LTCCP consultation as compliance with the requirement. The resulting charges – amongst the highest in the entire country, were subsequently imposed on Thames and other ratepayers not connected to the new schemes on the basis of  “unaffordability”. How fair was that?

The “One District” mantra had taken root, and in the words of a former County Chairman, created a festering sore that would remain until “area of benefit” charging was re-instituted. I, along with many others believe that this decision did more to create an East / West divide than any other taken since the advent of the District Council.

By June this year, a coalition of five councillors forced the Review over the strong objection of the then Mayor, and other Eastern councillors. This overdue review decision was highly significant being separated from the 2012 triennial Review of Finance and Revenue, where it would have been lost amongst all the other less significant revenue decisions. This is clearly where staff, and previous Eastern seaboard councillors would have preferred to see the issue consigned.

A review is even more timely because of the sudden admission by Council staff earlier this year that it is perfectly feasible, as I had long maintained, to establish individual operating costs for each of the ten Council owned wastewater plants, and thus institute separate area of benefit charges for those connected to each plant.

The Report that is  required as a result of the 30 June 2010 decision is due back in Council on 8 December. Watch this space to see what evolves. One thing is certain - the issue will not go away;  failure to act now to ensure a fairer outcome will ensure it's return in the 2013 election campaign.


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