Whanganui ratepayers are facing an average rates increase of 1.4 per cent for the next financial year.
Councillors approved the Whanganui District Council's 2020-21 annual plan on Tuesday, June 23, the first unanimous approval during Hamish McDouall's mayoralty which began in 2016. It comes after three all-day workshops, two review meetings and public consultation.
Setting rates was the council's most important role, councillor Rob Vinsen said. This year it started with a proposed 5.2 per cent increase that was whittled back by reducing debt repayment and by chief executive Kym Fell cutting $250,000 from salaries.
McDouall takes a cut to his $100,000-plus salary, which he is pleased about.
"It's appropriate, because lots of people's salaries have disappeared," he said.
Rates might decrease for some people, Vinsen said, while others could face increases because of property revaluations this year.
It is one of the first times Vinsen has voted in favour of an annual plan.
Councillor Brent Crossan asked what would happen to the $475,000 the council had budgeted for the Fitzherbert Ave extension, which will now be funded by the Government.
The money would be put into another project that was removed by the New Zealand Transport Agency 18 months ago, infrastructure manager Mark Hughes said. The project was not specified.
The annual plan includes $1 million for a parallel taxiway at Whanganui Airport.
There was nothing in the plan's summary about sport or the velodrome project, councillor Philippa Baker-Hogan said. She asked the mayor to include the velodrome. A final report on reroofing or redeveloping it is due out soon.
Baker-Hogan was also worried about the $49 million cost of the Sarjeant Gallery redevelopment project, which does not include contingencies.
"It puts significant pressure on our annual plan and 10-year plan."
The Sarjeant project will have no impost on ratepayers, and sport is just as important as the arts, McDouall said. He praised the plan for including spending on a digital strategy, housing and climate change.
"They're the three most important things right now, and we are spending money on them."
Councillor Charlie Anderson voted against all three. He said they couldn't be seen or touched and he couldn't see how they would make a difference, but decided to vote in favour of the plan anyway.
"Clearly I have missed something the majority can see, but I can't," he said.
A lot of councils had used the Covid-19 situation as an opportunity to do less, councillor James Barron said.
"We took the opportunity to do more. We had virtual meetings within two days and let annual plan submitters appear remotely."
Whanganui's rates increase was the second lowest this century, McDouall said - well below Tauranga's 12 per cent.
"There's a lot of uncertainty in the world economy, but this is a good annual plan."