Rotorua Lakes Council will not be consulting on its annual plan for the coming year after announcing an overall rates increase across the district of 1.9 per cent.
The rates increase is lower than the 2.5 per cent approved in the council's long-term plan agreed last year. Under new rules set out by the Government councils are not required to consult the public, unless significant changes are being made to long-term plans.
But at a meeting of the council's strategy, policy and finance committee today there was heated discussion about whether changes to the budget for the controversial shared library and health hub project should be publicly consulted.
According to a report to councillors by the council's governance and partnerships manager Oonagh Hopkins, "consultation on an annual plan is no longer a Special Consultative Procedure and can be conducted by methods chosen by individual councils. If material or significant changes are identified a consultation document and supporting documents must be used to communicate changes to the community."
Traditionally, the council has produced a draft annual plan and undertaken a formal submission and hearings process before adopting its annual plans.
Council staff have identified no "material or significant changes" to the long-term plan but will carry out a community communication and education campaign to let the public know they may use other methods to pass on their needs and wants to the council.
However, the council will provide the public with information relating to rates for the 2016/17 year, and its 2017 capital expenditure programme, and people will be able to provide feedback - as opposed to making formal submissions.
The council adopted its long-term plan following public consultation, submissions and hearings and the council was not deviating from the direction set out in the long-term plan, therefore there will be no formal submissions process this year.
The council's chief financial officer, Thomas Colle, told councillors the proposed rates increase was higher than household inflation because council inflation differed from household inflation due to costs being driven by different supply and demand pressures.
He said the fact the increase would be lower than indicated in the long-term plan would not impact on the council's commitment to pay down debt, which is budgeted to drop by $18.5 million over the 10-year period to 2025.
During the debate councillor Rob Kent was adamant the more than $3 million addition to the budget for the children's heath hub and shared library proposal was a significant change to the long-term plan.
"To turn round and actually say we have no significant changes to the long-term plan is quite honestly rubbish."
But, council chief executive Geoff Williams explained the budget changes had been approved.
The recommendation passed and will go to the council on March 30 for a final decision.