Waikato Regional Council is taking unprecedented steps to provide short-term financial support to ratepayers this year by effectively reducing net rates rises to zero.
The council today approved a budget of $101.94 million and a decrease in rates revenue from current ratepayers of 0.1 per cent compared to the 2019-2020 financial year.
Chairman Russ Rimmington said the regional council had to act decisively to protect Waikato residents as they deal with the impacts of Covid-19.
"This budget is anything but business as usual," said Russ.
"Residents across our region may be facing long lists of money worries in these tough times but we were adamant rates rises from the regional council wouldn't be among them.
"That's why we've taken unprecedented steps to tighten our belts this year. We've run the ruler over each budget line to make sure every dollar is working for residents.
"We've made these savings principally through efficiencies in planned spending, rather than cuts to levels of service, to ensure we continue to support the jobs we'll need to help the region recover," he said.
The budget is seen as the most direct way to provide financial support to residents in the short term and is accompanied by a new provision of $400,000 for rates relief to support those ratepayers facing financial hardship.
Significant cost savings have been created by a cap on staff increases and a staff pay freeze as well as the spreading of proposed flood protection rates increases over a further six years, each individually equating to savings of over $1 million this year.
"We've used a surplus of $789,000 set aside from last financial year to offset the general rates revenue requirement for 2020-2021, but immediate savings are also being passed on to ratepayers through a rigorous budget review and some additional medium-term borrowing."
The rates position proposed is based on a net zero increase in rates revenue payable by current ratepayers. It may not equate to a zero rates increase for all ratepayers in the region but, in most cases, rates revenue is estimated to be at or below 2019-2020 levels.
Ratepayers in Hamilton will face moderate increases in targeted rates due to the council's contractual commitment to the Waikato to Auckland passenger rail service, as well as public transport services in the city.
Ratepayers in the Lower Waikato and Waihou-Piako zones will also see a rise as a result of catchment rates increases. Increases set out in the council's 2018-2028 Long Term Plan, which were originally set to be spread over three years, will now occur over a further six years in order to minimise costs to residents during this next financial year.
This is the final Annual Plan of the current three-year cycle set by councillors elected in October last year. Next year will see the council set out its long term plan, a 10-year vision for the region.
The plan promises to direct future spending and investment in a way that promotes wellbeing, addresses climate change and responds to the economic challenges ahead.