Ten Year Plan
Thursday, February 2, 2012 at 10:21AM
Bill Barclay

Yesterday's Council meeting was principally occupied with endorsing the draft Ten Year Plan and approving the program suggested by staff for distribution, hearings and deliberations in May. Final approval is set for 27 June. All this will be promulgated over the next few days through the TCDC Website.

The Financial Controller made a presentation that outlined the likely changes to rate levels resulting from decisions apparently taken at the 'closed door' workshop on 22 December to remove or delay proposed capital expenditure. This was clearly a seminal meeting during which councillors must have been reminded of the harsh fiscal realities they are facing. Obviously, many 'pet' projects bit the dust during this session, but we have no way of knowing which, or how much.

Contrary to the rules surrounding 'closed door' workshops, our Council has again used this occasion to make critical decisions concerning the future of our District. The Meeting yesterday simply endorsed whatever was decided on 22 January without providing any detail whatsoever. All we were permitted to know was that substantial works had been canned or postponed, and that rates would be maintained at a relatively low level for the immediate future, though what happens towards the end of the ten year period is anyone's guess.

Proposed external borrowing had been reduced from a high of $122m. to $90m, and according to the Mayor,, "fat will be cut from the budget over the next four years by way of 'efficiencies'", and Mr Hammond indicated that he "would be looking closely at cost structures" - whatever that means.

This method of postponing hard decisions in favour of currying favour in the electorate through rates is hardly new - this Council is not the first and certainly will not be the last to follow this predictable course.  All we were allowed to see at the meeting was a single graph showing the result of their decisions on 22 January - borrowing, interest and rates compared with those applying when all projects were intact. These may or may not have been good decisions - we have no way of knowing because of the patently obvious desire to keep the process secret.

One thing was clear - the Mayor regards Berl growth projections as totally unrealistic. This a repeat of what happened back in 2007 when Waikato University was replaced by Berl as provider of this service. Guru Dr Ganesh Nana came to a Council meeting and provided an upbeat assessment that has proven to be way off the mark, but Councils are obliged to seek professional advice in this regard, and council staff only too happy to incorporate their projections in budgets.

Unfortunately, our projections for Development contributions are again millions out, and continue as a barometer of incompetence. I heard the same excuses yesterday from the Finance Controller for the failure to meet these targets as I have heard for five years - they have not once in that time reached budget. "It is all because we have not come out of the recession as fast as we predicted" - if I hear that excuse once more, I think I will scream. 

The Mayor is right to be sceptical - projections are a hot potato, and we would be far better to ask councillors what they think - they at least know what is going on in their areas. Wellington Wonks don't have a clue, no matter how much they burnish their public image.

Rate-payers will get the opportunity to submit on the draft document when it emerges over the next few weeks, but have no way of knowing the options. This circumvents enlightened submission, rational discussion and transparent decision making.

Councillors traditionally pay lip service during the submissions - submitters become frustrated, and the Council proceeds with its 'we know best' approach during deliberations. Watch this space very carefully later on in the process to see just how it proceeds. In the meantime, the more submissions, the better - make sure and get your copy of the Summary - access the website for the full document, and get your your submissions in before the end of March.

It is interesting to note that not a single Councillor spoke out against the Mayor's suggestion that in order to save money, the Summary only be made available at service centres, libraries etc. This is contrary to past practice when Summary's were sent to every ratepayer. This change will save about $30,000, but does nothing to enhance the democratic process. The Mayor even described the wider distribution of the 28 page Summary as "hogwash", and that it was adequate to advise rate payers of its availability in a letter to be enclosed with the next rate demand. Hmm!




Article originally appeared on BillBarcBlog (http://billbarclay.co.nz/).
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