Councillors today deliberated on all the 70 submissions received on the Long-term Plan 2018-2028 consultation document, Working together for a thriving Southland, and the Statement of Proposal: Fees and Charges for 2018-2021 in public session. The decisions made today are scheduled to be formally adopted as part of the full Long-term 2018-2028 at a council meeting on 29 June 2018.
Long-term Plan 2018-2028 consultation document
Councillors were conscious that in prior years reserves have been used extensively to support reduced rate increases and the continuation of required work programmes. This is no longer sustainable or prudent. However, some internal efficiencies have led to budget savings during this financial year and councillors were keen to use it to offer some relief to the rate increases. This has resulted in changes to the projected rates increases:
- 2018/2019 reduce the overall rates increase from 8.8% to 8.3%
- 2019/2020 reduce the overall rates increase from 8.3 to 7.8%
- 2020/2021 increase the overall rates increase from 4.9% to 6.0%
Chairman Nicol Horrell said, “It is pleasing that the efficiencies gained internally can be used to benefit ratepayers and we will be looking to make further efficiencies in the future.”
Councillors supported their preferred options:
- Urban stop bank upgrade construction works on the Waihopai River, Kingswell and Otepuni Streams will start after 2028. Investigations into the nature of the upgrades will occur prior to 2028.
- Investigations into ‘improving water’ rate options for funding the increase in water improvement projects will go ahead in 2019/20. Any changes would be subject to public consultation.
As a result of deliberations councillors also agreed:
- In principle, to a joint proposal for cultural monitoring with Te Ao Marama with $20,000 being made available in 2018/19 from within existing budgets.
- To a request for further funding from the Otatara Landcare Group, which will now total $10,000 per annum. Continued funding was also confirmed for Stewart Island Rakiura Community Environment Trust and the Hollyford Conservation Trust.
Role of the regional forum:
Clarification was also given to address concerns by some submitters about the role of a potential regional forum in the government-required limit setting process due to commence soon. The council’s People Water and Land programme addresses Southland’s water quality issues and the limit setting process will be part of this programme. The council is considering forming a regional forum (its scope is yet to be determined) as part of its process following feedback from other regions, which found they were duplicating work and requiring a lot of time and resource in the process. The role of the regional forum is to provide representative advice to council to inform decision making on generic matters that affect all the catchments. Discussions will be held in catchments and communities to ensure there is fair local representation and these will be integrated into the process before any limits are set.
Revenue and Financing Policy Review
Councillors supported their preferred option for the dairy differential rate:
- The dairy differential rate will be retained for a further year to contribute to water improvement activities. It had been due to end this year.
Statement of Proposal: Fees and Charges for 2018-2021
The Statement of Proposal is a result of a review of our fees and charges to ensure they are in line with our financial strategy, which takes a user pays (where possible) approach. The fees and charges relate to consents, monitoring and compliance activities, which have been increasing in recent years, largely due to national legislation. The review carefully considered who the users are and who benefits to ensure fairness in the increases in existing fees and charges, and the development of new ones.
New charge for large water users:
Councillors decided they wanted to proceed with a proposal to apply a new research and monitoring charge for surface water takes over 50,000 cubic metres per day.
The council noted that Meridian’s daily 47 million cubic metre take for the Manapouri Power Scheme meant it was the consent holder most significantly affected by the proposal. This is the biggest consumptive water take in New Zealand.
Meridian Energy Ltd submitted against the proposal asking Environment Southland to set it aside and consult further on an alternative approach in parallel with the targeted rating review process proposed for 2019.
However, councillors believed it was only fair that a share of the science and monitoring costs required for consents were recovered directly from the consent holder, rather than leaving the general ratepayers and/or reserves to cover any shortfall, which has happened previously. Under the new charge, Meridian would pay $80,000 (GST excl) next financial year as part of a transition arrangement (which is equivalent to a voluntary contribution they are making to Environment Southland’s science programme at present). The amount will increase to $128,000 (GST excl) the following year.
Chairman Nicol Horrell said, “Meridian’s contribution to our science programme is appreciated, but at the end of the day all ratepayers need to be treated equitably and it is only fair that large water users who stand to gain from their activities contribute their share of the costs.”
Forestry fee changes:
Further changes to forestry charges were recommended by staff to ensure they are consistent with other regional councils and legally correct. Submitters raised concerns about the cost of increased monitoring, particularly during harvesting and post harvesting activities. During deliberations councillors decided to vary the costs based on the relative risks of the farm and plantation activities.