The Council trend of more of the same continued last week, sorry, the same results after all.
On Tuesday we voted for more unbudgeted spend to expedite our Freedom Camping bylaw review. How anyone could imagine that we are going to be plagued with Freedom Campers over the next 12 months to 2 years is beyond me. Even if we were to experience previous levels by some magical doing, what projects should we chop from the work program to cover the $60 000 of unbudgeted spend?
The trouble with all this ad-hoc spending is that we are not weighting projects in any order of priority and we have no idea what other projects are being impacted (if we are not lifting the debt cap as claimed). As we would if the spend was allocated during an Annual Plan or Long Term Plan process.
The issue of Freedom Camping was a Government created one, and it requires the Government to sort it out. At the very least, the situation of non-self-contained vehicles and their rights needs to be addressed.
Undeterred, Thursday’s meeting also more unbudgeted spend allocated. This time, to consult the populace about permanently chlorinating our water supplies. Although this agenda was conspicuously quiet about the amount of unbudgeted spend required, when I asked what figure we are talking about Richard Kirby assured me it was only $15 000 to $20 000 at the outside.
Interestingly, every other time we talk about a public consultation the figure always seems to come back as at least $80 000. I guess it is not without expectation that the man who assured us the dam would not go over $83 million might have underestimated the cost of public consultation in this instance. I look forward to receiving the cost post consultation. If Mr. Kirby is correct, then it will be interesting to hear why other consultations need to be so expensive.
The question I had was that why are staff and some Councillors so desperate to push this through at the expense of holding a special consultation when the same staff report suggest that the Government are likely to make chlorination of public water supplies compulsory? It is absurd that we would jump ahead of the Government at our expense, when there is a high likelihood that the majority of our Community will respond against Chlorination – as Councillor Tuffnell pointed out.
Councillor Tuffnell’s concerns were that if the majority of the consultation respondents were of a negative view, where would that leave the Council given that Government were indicating it was necessary. Having been on the Council last term with Councillor Tuffnell I was surprised he didn’t recall the decision to ignore 80% or more of the submissions with regard to the funding model of the dam.
Speaking of the dam, I am looking forward to an update next week. It appears that the initial flurry of Shane Jones spending on water augmentation did not reach far from his home patch. Does he have any chump change left to throw at the Waimea irrigation dam? Time will tell.
If the Government doesn’t bail out the woeful project overruns, then the ratepayers of Tasman will be facing significant increases. Perhaps none more so than the water users on the Waimea Plains who bought one or two shares just to see them through a drought.
Part of the prerequisite to making the dam “affordable” was to make it impossible to own land on the Waimea Plains without being affiliated to the dam – if you wanted to do anything productive with land, or even run a few stock. So, the Council implemented some draconian water regulations that cannot be slackened off without a $50 million pay-out to our dam “partners.”
John Palmer insisted that the general ratepayer had to pick up more and more of the dam expense to make the water “affordable” for all. He admitted that the bigger players on the plains could probably afford to pay more for their water, but unless the costs were such that the small holders were able to participate the project would not work.
Well John, I am sure that these small holders are keen to hear how it is that they must wear the brunt of the cost blow outs and maintain any sense of affordability.
What was undoubtedly not explained to them was how the overruns would be distributed. The Council cannot charge water users for water. Those of you on urban supply might think otherwise, however, you are wrong. Council supplies everyone water free-of-charge. Urban users do pay for the cost of maintaining the Council supply which is apportioned according the volume of water that you use. The difference may seem subtle but has significant implications when we move to the irrigators.
The Council has the ability (and right) to apportion the dam overruns to the irrigators, even though the Waimea Irrigator Ltd contribution is technically capped. This extra charge can be done via our rating powers.
However, because the Council does not/can not charge for water, and because there are no pipes running from the dam, we cannot charge a maintenance type fee based on water usage, we can only charge per property affiliated. Currently that is set up so that the $650 000 of loan payments will be distributed according to capital value of the affiliated water users. This will be on top of the general ratepayer in the zone of benefit capital value-based contribution.
The unfairness of this becomes apparent when you consider that many of these one- or two-unit shareholders have quite high capital valuations in comparison to their water use. Even more on-the-nose is that some of the bigger shareholders do not have land associated (or very little land) with their shares so they cannot be rated. This shortfall will be picked up by the others – including the small players that we had to “make the water affordable” for.
While I feel for the people caught out by this situation, I am still fresh from an election campaign where my efforts to point out the issues with the Waimea Dam were thrown back in my face with phrases like “short sighted,” “nay-sayer,” “political mannequin” and “against progress” (with quite a few less polite ones too). So, I guess now I get to sit back and see how “more of the same” works out for you.
A situation that is especially concerning with a Council bent on unbudgeted spending on top of Dam overruns, and a rate freeze, to compound the issue. The Mayor who was “fully aware” of the impacts of COVID-19 just prior to lockdown while endorsing millions of dollars of unbudgeted spend is now relying on our region’s diversity to lessen the impact of local unemployment
While at the same time continuing with the Government and Local Government New Zealand policies of keeping up the Council spending to buy our way out of a recession. Twyford making threats to keep Council spending up (if we want Government money) can only be attributed to the fact that the Government are panicking that the wheels might fall off their trolley just before an election.
Whereas my thinking is more aligned with former Christchurch council finance chairman Raf Manji (also quoted in the same Stuff Article.)
Who said while councils should be looking at their books, local government “does not have the ability to magic up $50 billion of new funding”.
Former Christchurch councillor Raf Manji believes the government should consider removing GST from rates to help ratepayers.
“Its funding options are limited and its funders, the ratepayers, are going to be under major financial pressure from the current economic shock.
“If central government is so keen to see projects go ahead, they can fund them directly, and at a much lower cost than local government.
“Whilst they have their chequebook open, they could also remove GST from rates, thus returning $750-800m back to ratepayers.”