Water water everywhere, but are we paying too much for it?
Three Whangarei District councillors say yes, arguing that a proposed water rate increase in the 2016/17 annual plan is unjust and a surplus in the targeted water rates account is being used to bankroll other council projects.
But other councillors, along with WDC's bookkeepers, say this is wrong and the water rates account is tightly ring-fenced, as required under the Local Government Act.
Next year Whangarei's town water consumers will pay $2.22 per cubic metre of water, as opposed to the $2.18 currently charged, subject to approval of the draft annual plan currently out for consultation.
Councillor Brian McLachlan, backed by councillors Phil Halse and Crichton Christie, said the water rates account had been in surplus since 2008 and was being used to make the books look healthier. He said while council had originally planned to spend $8.5 million on water projects in 2016/17, it was now spending only $4 million.
"The question you should ask yourself is, why haven't we brought forward other water projects that need to be done? If there is no need for these projects at this time, there is no need for a water rates increase," Mr McLachlan said.
Mr Halse said there would be about $8 million to spare in the water rates account by the end of the year, even as work on a new $18.7 million water treatment plant at Whau Valley continued.
"If we're not doing the work, the ratepayers should ask for their money back, that's how it works," he said.
However, WDC's group manager for support services, Alan Adcock, said the fact some spending from the water account had been deferred was to do with the timing of consenting and designs.
"In the meantime the money is coming in and is building up, but it's going to be spent [on water]. It's in surplus now, there's other times it's been in deficit," he said.
He said the water rate was increasing slightly as that money would be needed in the long term for water projects.
Meanwhile WDC's finance committee chairwoman, Shelley Deeming, described the overall annual plan as "steady as we go".
General rates looked set to rise 3.9 per cent year on year, as opposed to the 4.45 per cent predicted, due to a low local government inflation rate.
WDC also had to defer some capital project after the planned $10.2 million Old Boys' Rugby Club sale was blocked in court.
- The annual plan is online at wdc.govt.nz.