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2017/2018 Draft Annual Plan at Council Tuesday

The Draft 2017/18 Annual Plan goes to Council on Tuesday morning.

The days when the Plan was subjected to a measure of public consultation are long gone. Such consultation is now regarded as ‘optional under certain circumstances’ by way of the amendments to LGA (2002) undertaken in 2014. Council is under no obligation to consult on matters that have already been ‘decided.’ Convenient eh!

Council is now able to ”proportionately” tailor consultation depending on significance as defined:

  • carries a large financial consequence,  
  • affects a large proportion of the community, 
  • mpacts on present or future interests of the community (including Māori values and their relationship to land and water), 
  • affects the level of service of a significant activity, (where annual expenditure of the activity is $1 million or more) 
  • has a high level of community interest, or 
  • has controversial consequences.

The entire process for our Council to date has been conducted behind the closed doors of Community Board and Council ‘Workshops.’

One significant sentence in the Paper as presented is as follows:

“The collective rates increase and/or singular budget changes can trigger the need for formal consultation.”

Here are the rate increases proposed in the  paper have been now been released for the first time:

Community Board area          Local CB rates only              District plus CB area rates

Thames                                           10.38%                                  4.56%

Coromandel-Colville                        -2.57%                                 1.33%

Mercury Bay                                   10.12%                                  4.08%  

Tairua/Pauanui                                 1.08%                                  2.13%

Whangamata                                    1.83%                                   2.32%

It appears that our Council consider that these increases do not constitute sufficient of a “trigger” to institute consultation, so that is what we are to be ‘stuck with.’

I disagree, and consider that our new Council has been deficient in fulfilling its duty to ensure that rate-payers have adequate notice, and opportunity to provide input in regard to the proposals contained in the Annual Plan.

Note that the Paper contains substantial detail regarding what is to happen in Mercury Bay with the Town Centre Upgrade and Erosion Project,  but almost nothing in regard to Thames where the detail has stayed well behind the 'closed doors' of 'worksops.'

Note also that the above rate increases do not include the projections for Stage 2 of the Whitianga Town Centre Update – only the $5.2 required foir Stage I – consultation is proposed for Stage 2.

Note also that the following additional capital works projects are included in order to accommodate the upgrade (stage 1)

  • Water Supply $220,000
  • Stormwater $500,000
  • Roading $363,304

These are not insignificant, and reflect the decision some years ago to ‘District fund’ these items. It is significant in view of the unequal balance of development taking place throughout the District, and the fact that we in Thames (and probably Coromandel) are shouldering a disproportionate burden in this regard. I have been accused of ‘bleating’ on this issue, but am unfazed – I will continue to ‘bleat’ regardless  

Note also that the rate increase incorporates provision for the following Community Board additional items beyond those already advised (and consulted) under the LTP:

  • Thames Security Cameras Stage 2 $26,058 
  • Thames bus trial funding $39,000
  • Thames indoor sports additional operational funding $41,613
  • Thames Community Board grant funding to the "The Treasury" $30,000
  • Coromandel Hall foundations renewals $250,000
  • Tairua/Pauanui walkway grant $50,000 
  • Royal Billy Point boat ramp and jetty upgrade $65,000

The inclusion of the Thames Bus Trial is certainly a welcome addition, but the questions now raised regarding the substantial additional cost of the Zoom Zone Indoor Dry Court – that  could be anywhere north of a million based on information already leaked, could become really significant, and add to the already substantial 4.56% Thames rate increase by the time it is approved. The report on the debacle won’t come to Council until 16 May – and the additional cost approved in time for inclusion in the final Plan due to be approved on 27 June. That could push the Thames rates increase well over 6% - don’t say that you have not been warned.

I have indicated previously that the whole Dry Court Project had been badly handled right from day one, and I have no reason to adjust that opinion – it is my view that will be further cost imposts before the project is completed with this contractor, and one must wonder just what risk was and is being absorbed by Council that should in effect be that of the contractor. These questions may or may not be answered on 16 May. Certainly the financial ability of the contractor (Stanley Construction) to shoulder any risk raises real concerns.

The other major issue that arise from this Annual Plan document concerns our liability for protecting the East Coast from inundation – Tsunami, weather, or climate change (rising sea level). There is reason to believe, both from statements made in this document and by the previous Council and Mayor that we are being softened up for the inevitable “we are all in this together” rationale that will lead to the sharing of rating liability over the entire District, and this will certainly not be insignificant.

Indeed, it could well become one of the major issues, if not the major issue facing rate-payers over the next few years. The signs are already there with attempts at all stages of current protection work to avoid any suggestion of ‘capital works’ where possible. Maintenance and replacement of any existing structure can thereby be spread through District expenditure in accordance with current policy.  Any suggestion of ‘capital works’ with regard to erosion control will require the formal adoption of a ‘district funding strategy,' or continuation of the interim 'District' funding as at present, but that has definite limits. If I am not mistaken, the intent is that this should become set policy before the end of this year, and couyld be 'sneaked through' at any time.

If you require further evidence of just what is being cooked up in this regard, I suggest that you read very carefully the wording of the section Mercury Bay coastal erosion programme in the document.

“The estimated costings demonstrate that erosion control can be achieved at significantly less cost than through wall structures and that over a four year period all 15 of the Mercury Bay beach areas could be restored at a total cost of $1.15 million. This compares favourably to the Brophy Beach rock wall project cost of $1.2 million (to date).

The Community Board are requesting this work be funded by a district funded budget. (my caps) Two years ago there was a mix of local and district funded coastal erosion projects being funded (the first district funded project also provided protection for a Council owned road). At last year's Annual Plan discussions the Council agreed to district fund all the current projects while the district coastal erosion strategy was completed. This strategy and the Council discussions to be had during its development would determine the best source of funding along with particular strategies that would address the different landforms affected (east coast versus west coast beaches and coastlines) and encompass the emergency coastal protection works policy under Section 330 of the Resource Management Act. 

The strategy is not yet complete and is due to be presented to Council during the level of service workshops for developing the Long Term Plan in June 2017. A workshop to help develop the strategy is scheduled for 5 April (the workshop paper is in the Extranet for elected members).” Note that 'Extranet' is the private Council internet communication available only to councillors.

The recommendations include:

4.    Defers a decision on the Mercury Bay Coastal erosion programme to the Long Term Plan discussions within the framework of a district-wide coastal management strategy.”

I am extremely concerned that this is an attempt by the relatively wealthy Eastern Boards, but Mercury Bay in particular, to spread the consequences of some very unwise town planning, and individual decision-making regarding the siting of residences, across the entire District – both Thames and Coromandel being demonstrably less able to afford such an imposition, and quite disproportionately less likely to require similar erosion protection.

Everyone needs to follow this argument closely, because it is highly likely that we will have this proposal put in place one way or another this year for adoption in the 2018/2028 LTP. It could be accomplished before sufficient consultation has taken place, allowing West Coast ratepayers to provide reasoned  input into a policy that would be just about impossible to alter once put in place. I have warned of this possibility now for over four years, and it is now coming to pass.

Be aware, be very aware! East Coast protection will cost millions, and will become a recurring nightmare. To rationalise 'District' funding for this purpose on the basis of 'equivalent risk' on the east and west coasts is demonstrably false, if not fraudulent. East Coast Councillors who we need not name, but who will be perfectly obvious will push like hell for the change, and ours are likely too naive to understand the long term ramifications of what is being proposed.

East Coast councillors won the wastewater scheme battle - they should not so easily accomplish this piece of outright chicanery, but they will because they are better organised, and have local media that keeps their population substantially better informed than ours. Ours sleep-walk by comparison.      




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