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Council Meeting 26 February 

Today’s Council meeting being the first of the year went off without a hitch. This appeared to be achieved by the postponement of a number of rather controversial items, but in the main, it was fairly even-handed, and Mayor Leach displayed chairing skills of a high order - not always evident in the past.

He is becoming very skilled at keeping the momentum of the meeting moving along, and shutting up certain of those around the table who love to grandstand and ask questions that are simply time consuming – no names, no pack-drill.

I will deal with some of the matters that arose during the course of the meeting that are of interest, and in the order that they arose.

The first was a staff suggestion that the Disaster Reserve Fund be held at its current $1.57m level. It was interesting to note that none of those present asked the obvious question relating to the production of say a ten year analysis to determine the ‘ins’ and ‘outs’.

This is really needed in order to see if the recent lull in claims on the fund has been unusual. I recall annual dollops of several hundred thousand dollars following storm damage, but very low claims during the last four years.

The rationale was later expanded during Steve Baker’s presentation when he pointed out the projected $40m external borrowing cushion ahead – a totally artificial level of course brought about by the decision outlined in my 23 February post.

In a related issue, both Steve and David Hammond were at pains later in the meeting to justify budgeting for a $3.6m deficit in the 2014/15 Annual Plan. They obviously quite sensitive about it, but in the scheme of things it is not of great significance.

They extrapolated the amount as being $2m for “Anchor and Other Projects”, $1m related to NZTA funding portion  (subsidy) on roading – paid in arrears, and $.6m related to the depreciation on ESW (wastewater) projects that Council has chosen not to fund – this dates back a few a years and relates to AC (Additional Capacity) that awaits take-up by putative developers – Leach by the way, is convinced that we are over the hump, and that substantial developments are on the way.

We shall see – certainly it was a ‘red-letter’ dayfor Steve Baker being able to report for the first time in seven years that DCs (Development Contributions) had reached budget. It does not mean much in view of the fact that they have been revised downwards by half not once, but twice during the year,

As Hammond was won’t to repeat ad nauseum, it is all about flexibility – that gave Leach and Goudie the opportunity to again dump on the previous Council(s) for the ESPs and “lack of flexibility”. This bleating is becoming so ho-hum, and in Goudie’s case an indication of her profound ignorance of the situation.

Brian Hanna (Mayor of Waitomo) and James Bevan – a consultant working to establish the Mayoral Forum’s road transport gave a rousing endorsement of the proposal by the Mayoral Forum to set up a “Centre of Excellence” for road transport co-operation (not a consultancy mind you – now a naughty word within local government) within the Region. It is designed to complete an audit of the entire roading network, classification and standards, and handle contracting - issues that I have previously discussed with David Hammond.

It appears that over 33% of renewals and up to 60% of maintenance undertaken automatically in accordance with ‘programs’ that are simply automatic in execution – something that those of us who watch these things have been aware of for a very long time.

There are of course millions to be saved in this direction, and it appeared that everyone in the room thought that this was a good idea subject to a business case and budgets being presented. Only Cr Goudie squawked her disapproval – saying that we already had all this in place without “another bureaucracy”. Leach, who is no admirer of the Mayoral Forum thought otherwise, and put her in her place.

NZTA appears to have committed to a substantial proportion of the cost in any case – it fits with their current attempts to centralise its engineering and other services in Wellington following recent cuts to its operating budget. The proposal will probably fly at a meeting to held at Karapiro on 17 March.

The CE Report at least revealed one good thing – that John Gaukroger has joined  the Great Tracks project team (while remaining employed by DoC)  John has more savvy and common sense that the rest of the bunch put together, and I believe that he has already scotched  routes and proposals that had almost progressed to disaster. John’s experience and performance with the Timber Trail that I have previously written about will mean an entirely new and practical approach that may actually result in something being achieved between the Blow-Hole and Purangi.

But there was still a lot of head scratching going on in regard to other aspects of the route that I have previously alluded to. Hopefully John will be able to work with Leach, who has placed so much of his political capital in this basket.

The Coromandel Harbour Project has been flicked to the next meeting on 12 March, and a great deal of face-saving appears to be going on behind the scenes. There was an indication that sediment testing is proceeding – contrary to the information provided at the EDC meeting on 17 February, and that “maintenance” dredging is proceeding in accordance with the existing (31 January 2014!) Resource Consent.

Hammond indicated that new dredging to open Furey’s Creek for ferrys and other commercial transport could cost as much as $9m – and that is before they even know the concentration and depth of the mercury and arsenic contamination. Leach indicated the “dry-dock” dredging would be even more, and that the whole proposal seems really up in the air.

On the other hand, charter and recreational use of Sugar Loaf is going to have to be controlled to meet health and safety standards.

The Kopu- Kaiaua stopbank route for the cycleway is also running into some strong head-wind as sinking has not been allowed  for. It has been going on for forty years, and ‘topping-up’ is necessary at regular intervals – not conducive to path building, and gates etc.

Gary Blake’s Kopu Bridge proposal is also running into head-winds as he seeks a TCDC guarantee for his Trust to take over ownership. It won’t happen otherwise – NZTA just won’t accept future liability on the proposal, and I can’t see TCDC coming to the party. Gary's Report will have to be re-writen as it does not comply with TCDC standards. As I said from the very beginning, this proposal is really a well intentioned pipe-dream - sad, but true.

Finally, even the CEO thought that EDC procedure and clarity needs tightening up, and the Mayor spent some time justifying the appointments. Not a good look!




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