Every three years all councils in New Zealand are legally required to review and update their Long Term Plan.
It is a huge undertaking for council staff and elected members alike, because it involves considering budgets, policies, asset management plans and a bundle of other things. For the Stratford District Council it has been an 18-month process, but we finally completed the task and last week adopted our 2021-31 Long Term Plan (LTP).
The LTP is subject to an external audit process undertaken by Audit New Zealand. I am pleased to report that it received an unmodified audit opinion, effectively the tick of approval, that says it is a robust and accurate document. The plan will be available to read on the council website.
The plan contains the activities, levels of service and associated costs of council and the funding mechanisms, including rates, to meet those costs. Within the LTP, the council has set a maximum rate increase limit of 6 per cent in any one year. For the year commencing July 1 this year, the actual increase is 4.25 per cent while over the 10-year period of the LTP the increases are forecast to be 4.65 per cent on average. Compared with many councils, this is a very good outcome.
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Our community consultation over the past few months focused on four major issues the council put forward, with preferred options for each. After receiving public submissions and feedback, two of these proposals - the green waste collection and a targeted rate on businesses to contribute more towards economic development costs - were rejected and withdrawn from the plan. While this was a disappointing outcome for some, it was also a good example of the public consultation and democratic process at work. It also shows that while the council can't always please every individual who has an opinion, it does demonstrate that the council does listen and is prepared to act in accordance with the broad community view.
The other two projects were retained in the LTP and will be actioned during the next three years. They were another council led subdivision project and the introduction of water meters to all properties connected to the town water supply system. The subdivision project was approved in principle only and the next steps will be to decide size, location, target market etc. Given the large amount of subdivision already happening and planned around the district, the council doesn't want to end up competing directly with private developers. Careful planning will be required.
The introduction of water meters to all properties is driven by the need to conserve water. Already, about 25 per cent of properties have meters and the plan is to extend this to all connected properties. At other councils where metering has been introduced, the overall consumption of water resulted in savings of up to 25 per cent. This might be a little ambitious for Stratford, but sizeable reductions in water use will occur. Meters allow for early identification of leaks and, of course, raises awareness about wastage and water saving methods. The council will be assisting with savings suggestions through an extensive education programme promoted by council staff.
It is important to know that the council is not seeking to gain more revenue overall from water metering; it is about encouraging water conservation. However, there will be variable costs for each individual property depending on the consumption. But there is also a wildcard in play here, it is called the Three Waters Reforms.
Major government proposals are imminent and will be game-changing. Therefore, until we understand how these changes will affect the Stratford District Council, we intend to hold off starting the water meter project. Once we have assessed the impact and have knowledge of the proposals, we will make the decision on whether to proceed further.