Sunday, 05 July 2020

WHITIANGA WEATHER

The TCDC chief executive's pre-election report - were all the cards on the table?

Ratepayers will need to wait until 30 June to learn their financial fate with Thames-Coromandel District Council delaying a decision on the Annual Plan by a week to allow for a further period of “fine tuning”.

Thrashing out their spending priorities at a deliberations meeting on 3 June, elected members signed off on a range of cuts – mostly in the council’s wage bill – which will reduce the planned 10 per cent rates increase to just under five per cent. Covid-19 delivered a silver lining of sorts for disgruntled ratepayers with $12.2m of planned capital spending between March and June cancelled or postponed resulting in an immediate 1.6 reduction in next year’s rates.

However, the reduced hike is only possible because of a $6m smoothing loan which will add three per cent to the rates bill for the next five years as the borrowing is repaid.

Chief executive, Rob Williams, warned that the cutbacks were merely “kicking the can down the tracks” and the long-term funding issues facing council had yet to be addressed. Next year’s Long Term Plan process, which will set out spending for the coming three years, may herald significant change in terms of what TCDC will fund going forward.

“We’re holding the line at this level for 12 months, and we’re having a far more robust discussion during the LTP as regards to how we make savings, and how we change service levels,” he said. As well as investigating other income streams, cuts in services will be on the cards with the members having to grapple with significantly larger costs – managing the district’s waste being a prime example. The success of these discussions will ultimately determine whether council can live within its mean, or whether ratepayers will face further financial burden in the form of significant rates rises.

The tone of the debate in the council chamber indicated that members are already willing to wield the axe on spending deemed non-essential, although there may well be differences of opinion as to what falls into that category. For the coming year, overall capital spend has been cut by just $3.5m, but the carry-over of essential work from the current year has forced more than $20m in planned projects off the agenda. Whitianga Town Hall re-roof, the Premier netball courts in Coromandel Town and further development at the Mercury Bay Multi-Sports Park were all casualties and will need to reconsidered as part of the Long Term Plan 2021-2023 which will go out for consultation next year. Another victim was district libraries which saw the budget for new books next year cut by 90 per cent.

Mercury Bay councillors, Murray McLean and Tony Fox, were forced to make some hard calls, eventually sacrificing $160,000 earmarked for the Meri Te Tai Reserve development in Whangapoua in order to allocate $70,000 for minor reserves projects throughout the ward and $80,000 to progress design and consultation work for the development of the Sheriff Block. The site is to be used as a venue for the Whitianga Summer Concert from 2022. Staff had proposed reducing the minor reserves projects fund from $150,000 to zero. $200,000 will be included to complete detailed design of the new Whitianga Transfer Station.

Co-funding commitments with the Government through the Tourism Infrastructure Fund means improvement works at public toilets at several locations around the peninsula will go ahead. Among these is a major redevelopment of the Pepe Reserve toilet block in Tairua which will proceed at a cost of over $400,000.

The largest investment to survive the cuts is the Whitianga skatepark with a $465,000 price tag. While it was identified as non-essential, the majority of councillors accepted it should proceed given $180,000 had been raised by the community and in particular its younger residents.

While members were due to formally adopt the Annual Plan today (Tuesday), given the scale of the change from the original draft, a further week has been allowed for staff to ensure all the documentation is complete. A special meeting will now be held on 30 June.

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