Council sets rates, spending plan

Russ Rimmington

Helping Waikato people retrofit their homes so they’re healthy is the only new programme of work Waikato Regional Council will seek public feedback on.

A 10-year budget – approved last week following three days of talks – otherwise sticks to business as usual, with a proposed increase to biodiversity spending, boost in funding to Te Waka economic development agency and more money to expand the Waikato to Auckland passenger rail service.

The year 1 budget proposes a rates increase to existing ratepayers of 7.3 per cent. Of that, an estimated 2 per cent of the increase is due to the extra work Waikato Regional Council must do to meet the new Essential Freshwater requirements announced by the Government last year.

For 77 per cent of Waikato Regional Council ratepayers, the overall rates rise will be less than $1 a week.

Waikato Regional Council chair Russ Rimmington said councillors had to make some tough calls to keep rates affordable, but it “hasn’t stopped us from innovation”.

“There are some things this council simply must do and staff have been savvy about their work programmes, scaling them to focus on what’s really going to make a difference to the region,” Cr Rimmington said.

“But the sustainable homes scheme is a massive shift from anything we’ve done before and, if it gets public support, could have a huge impact on the wellbeing of people in the Waikato,” Cr Rimmington said.

“We’ve got a housing crisis and retrofitting homes will make them a healthy and efficient place to live. That’s what’s driving us to explore partnership opportunities to implement such a scheme,” he said.

Councillors directed staff to spend $50,000 from the prior year operating surplus to develop a sustainable homes programme as part of the council’s commitment to climate and economic resilience.

On the casting vote of the chair, it was agreed $50,000 a year for three years would go to the Rural Support Trust from the council’s prior year surplus.

Councillors also asked that $250,000 be set aside from the prior year surplus to progress a koi carp management strategy this year.

Submissions on the 2021-2031 Draft Long Term Plan will open for a month from April 1.

The plan should be confirmed in June following hearings and deliberations in May.

Year 2 of the plan proposes an average rates increase to current ratepayers of 8.5 per cent. The following year, in 2023/24, the average rates increase is projected to be 2.4 per cent. These figures include inflation.

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