Should everyone in the Taupō District pay the same amount to have safe drinking water? Do we want and need a revamped museum and art gallery to display the treasures of our district and of Ngāti Tūwharetoa? Should the Taupō District Council lease or build a new building?
Those are all questions residents of the Taupō District need to consider as the Taupō District Council asks for their input on its priorities and direction over the next 10 years.
The council's Long Term Plan 2021-2031 is now open for public consultation as part of the review and adoption process, an undertaking which must be done every three years.
The council says "resilient economies, sustainable environments and connected communities" are the pillars of this Long Term Plan.
Although the council committed to a zero per cent rates increase last year while the district recovered from Covid-19, the projected average rates increase for 2021/22 is 6.5 per cent.
It is not alone in projecting a rates rise this year. Auckland Council is projecting a 5 average per cent rates rise, although it is up to between 16 and 23 per cent in some former rural areas. In Wellington, which is beset by infrastructure problems including an ageing water system and seismic issues, the projected average rates rise is 14 per cent.
Mayor David Trewavas says Covid-19 meant the Taupō District Council has had to rethink some of its plans and priorities in an attempt to balance what the district can afford with making sure it remains a great place to live.
That means decisions such as the resolution in mid-2019 to forge ahead with building a new council administration building in Tūwharetoa St are back on the table, with the council indicating its preferred option is now to lease a building that would be built to Importance Level 4 standard to allow it to be used for disaster recovery.
The first of the four main priorities the council is asking for feedback on is the best way to fund water schemes around the district. At present, the council has 18 different drinking water schemes and the ratepayers connected to each scheme pay different costs. The council is proposing that with new legislation requiring it to comply with drinking water standards, the cost of providing water to all people in the district is evenly spread across all ratepayers, the same as is currently done for wastewater. Under this, some communities would pay more in their fixed targeted rates than they currently do, while others would pay less. The fixed charged targeted rate for all customers connected to council water schemes would be $532 in 2021/22.
The second question the council is asking is whether people think it should lease or build a new administration building. It has changed its preferred option to leasing, although this comes with some risks. To build would cost about $33.4m which would be funded by debt, while leasing would cost around $850,000 per annum.
The council is also proposing to park the idea of a new Taupō Museum and Art Gallery building in the meantime. While a new museum and art gallery would provide on-going protection, care and display of the district's heritage and give Ngāti Tūwharetoa the opportunity to see the return and display of their taonga, it would cost some $22.6 million of which one-third would have to come from debt. The rest would come from other sources.
The last question for ratepayers to consider is the future of the Lake Taupō Protection Project, which was set up to reduce the amount of manageable nitrogen flowing into Lake Taupō and which has not only met, but exceeded its nitrogen reduction target. However, the project had a limited life and a decision is now required on who should oversee its nitrogen reduction agreements into the future. The council's preferred option is for the project to continue to be jointly funded by the Taupō District Council (66 per cent or $252,129 annually) and the Waikato Regional Council (34 per cent).
While net debt has been gradually falling over the past 10 years, the council is projecting it will have to borrow more money to invest in core infrastructure, particularly in water and wastewater in order to keep pace with strong growth and the increased government regulation of water and wastewater services.
To fund this, council net debt would rise from $20m to $60m, peaking at $110m in 2024/25 before beginning to drop away again. Much of this debt is what is termed intergenerational, meaning that the ratepayers of future years contribute equally to the costs of assets they will have the use of in future.
The council recently had its credit rating upgraded to AA+ by Standard and Poors and says in the Long Term Plan consultation document that it still considers debt to be the most appropriate funding tool for long life intergenerational assets.
The document also shows a prospective average rates increase of 5.82 per cent in 2022/23 and 4.58 per cent in 2023/24 before dropping down to levels between 2 and 3 per cent from 2024 through to 2031.
"We feel this is a reasonable increase, especially when other regions around the country are increasing rates by double digits," said Trewavas.
"This will enable us to continue on with essential infrastructure work as well as those 'nice-to-haves' such as playground upgrades and town centre beautification,"
The council is also looking at options around building a Tūrangi Recreation Activity Centre, which would cost around $15.9m and be funded by debt. A replacement for social services hub Waiora House would cost around $5.9m. The council has also committed to a significant capital programme to deliver required infrastructure around the district as needed.
Submissions on the Long Term Plan consultation document are open now and close on Friday, April 16, at 5pm. The consultation document is on the council's website taupo.govt.nz.