Whangarei Mayor Sheryl Mai said previous Long Term Plans have produced a number of big-budget items such as spectacular bridges, sewerage upgrades and Sense of Place developments.
“But new assets have brought with them new running costs which we need to include as we plan future operating budgets.
“This plan recognises that the time has come to reduce the focus on major new projects and put the emphasis on getting the best out of the assets we already have. Maintaining them, operating them, and ensuring their efficiency and longevity, involves considerable expense but avoids a big catch-up in the future.
“We want to hear your views on how we fund this work.”
Mayor Mai said much of the District’s infrastructure is more than 40 years old and needs renewing or upgrading to ensure it works well into the future.
“We could delay this work for future councils to deal with, but we need to ensure the systems are working well now. Anything we delay now will only cost more when it has to be renewed and we must not lay an unfair burden on our children and grandchildren.
“The theme for the 2015 – 2025 Long Term Plan is consolidation. We want to balance the books while also funding the services our community expects and catching up on repairs and maintenance required for our ageing infrastructure and amenities.
“Finding ways to achieve this is no easy task. Three possible avenues are open to us, and we would appreciate knowing your preference. We could agree to accepting declining levels of service (which would reduce future operating costs), increasing debt or raising rates beyond inflation over the next decade. None is palatable, but this is the reality.”
Mayor Mai said that reducing our levels of service would allow rates to be kept relatively low and debt to be kept at current levels, but would mean a cut in the range and quality of services; funding only the basics, and even that at a stretch.
“We would still be able to invest around $500 million in capital projects over the next ten years. Our focus would be on renewing our core infrastructure, but there would still be some room for projects like new cycle/walkways and other amenities but, sooner or later, money would need to be spent by a future council on what we postpone this time around.
Mayor Mai said increasing debt was Council’s least favoured option.
“We are well below our serviceable debt limit, but we believe raising more debt is not what our ratepayers want, or the best approach as it would only delay an inevitable rates rise in future.
"Previous councils have worked hard to keep rates low for many years, and we have the second lowest residential rates in the country.
“To complete necessary infrastructure renewals and keep providing the services our community expects, this Council reluctantly sees a rate rise as the best way forward. It is an uncomfortable proposition for all of us, and certainly doesn’t make for popular politicians. Whatever your thoughts, we want to hear them.
The consultation document which will be released from 24 March will aid that decision. I encourage every ratepayer to read it carefully and then use the submission form at the back to send us their views.