The next 10 years — Whanganui district councillors (from left) ALAN TAYLOR, GRAEME YOUNG, DAVID BENNETT and MURRAY CLEVELAND present some of the issues in the long-term plan.
BY now, most residents and ratepayers will have seen reference to the Whanganui District Council long-term plan (LTP) consultation document, a 10-year plan for the district covering a wide range of issues.
It is available online at www.whanganui.govt.nz/long-term-plan, or can be collected from the council office. Submissions close at 5pm on Thursday, April 19, so there is a degree of urgency for everyone to look at this.
If there are matters missing from the LTP that you want to see addressed, now is the time to bring these to council's attention.
Councillors often get called into issues that concern people — issues as localised as dog on the Otamatea reserve, or as district-wide as the port revitalisation. They are all issues residents should raise now, in writing, if they have not been dealt with to their satisfaction. Positive submissions in support of issues raised are also welcomed.
So here are some key issues in the plan:
1 Forestry road costs
There is a virtual "avalanche" of logs to be harvested in the district over the coming decades which is very positive. This will result in increased damage logging trucks will cause to our roads, damage that must be paid for by the district council.
It is expected central government will pay 61 per cent of these repairs, but the remaining 39 per cent will be rate-funded. The plan includes proposals to impose higher rates for landowners growing exotic trees but this will not recover all the cost of the damage to roads. Four rating options for cost recovery are suggested — please let us know which you prefer.
2 Port revitalisation
An upgrade to wharf one costing $2 million was completed last year, but the plan suggests that over the next five years, almost $7m will need to be spent. The theory is that unless we show some interest in having a port ready for ships, nothing will happen.
We all know about the Midwest Ferry proposal for a Wanganui–Motueka ferry link.
This includes a business case to redevelop and maintain the port at Midwest's cost which brings two main benefits: 1) Midwest are proposing to be responsible for improved facilities, channel depth maintenance etc which are essential for a scheduled ferry service; 2) these improvements can then be used by council to attract further port users to Whanganui.
The Midwest proposal has generated interest from a number of other potential port users, one of which is a log export company which has now joined with Midwest to get the project under way. We only need to look at a similar "dirty river" log port in Gisborne to see the potential multimillion-dollar benefits these operations could bring.
3 Stormwater network
There has been a lot of work done over the past 20 years to get stormwater and wastewater systems separated, but there are still times of high rainfall when sewage gets into the stormwater system.
The LTP suggests three areas where money should be spent: Central city (Halswell, London and Harrisons streets); Springvale, College estate and the old cemetery area; and Aramoho-West, Kaikokopu stream and Tangingongoro areas. We want to hear if these streets are problems for residents for, with climate change, it appears that we are experiencing more frequent and intense storms.
4 Financial strategy
Long term, we must live within our means, but as one of New Zealand's oldest cities we have a lot of older infrastructure, and limited areas to grow the city population. Council staff try to balance expenditures that should be paid immediately from rates income, while new capital items (like a sewage plant) that will hopefully have a life over many years, will be paid for by borrowing and the repayments spread over the estimated life of the plant.
The downside of this is that by the end of this year (June 2018) we will have debts of around $120m, double the debt level of 10 years ago. Fortunately, council can borrow money at very low interest rates (around 5 per cent).
In the next 10 years, council plans to spend $27m on capital items. Nevertheless, by June 2028 we expect to reduce debt to $88m. On average, over the next 10 years, rates will rise 2.3 per cent annually, although next year 2018-19 the rise will be higher because of the costs of running the new sewage plant. This has added 1.7 per cent to all city rated properties connected to the sewage system.
5 Trade waste fees
The LTP details the proposed fees council is budgeting will be paid by the "wet industries" based in Whanganui. These companies are vital employers and wealth creators and we cannot do without. We need to hear from these industries if these fee structures are affordable.
6 New dog pound
This is expected to cost almost $1 million. About 10 per cent of dogs at our pound come from the Rangitikei Council. Last year council charged Rangitikei just over $1000 for the services we provide. We have asked for a review of these charges.
7 Sarjeant Gallery development
We have supported the redevelopment of the gallery, with the majority of funding "outside" money which cannot be turned down, and the city is the owner of a fabulous art collection which needs to be stored and displayed properly.
Our concern is that real cost of the redevelopment is possibly two years away, and we know that building costs are rising rapidly. We would like hear from you on this subject.
8 Growing the city
All councillors wish to see the city population grow, and we four were elected on an ambitious target to get the population to 60,000 residents by 2030. As the mayor has said, last year the population grew by 700, and we think a 2025 target of 50,000 is achievable.
The benefit of a growing population is that the costs of running a city are spread over a larger population base. We haven't given up on our 60,000 target, but there is much to be done to see this achieved. Council has tasked our subsidiary, Whanganui and Partners, with achieving these sorts of growth objectives.
9 Other items
The plan asks for feedback on a number of other issues:
a. Possible kerbside recycling — we are suggesting various options that could reduce waste removal costs for some residents, but also encourage residents to reduce waste. Ratepayer input is necessary.
b. Regional museum — there has been publicity about the desirability to increase the funding to improve promotion of this great facility.
c. Mobile library service — this is planned to change from a single large bus to a number of suburban hubs — the first in Castlecliff in 2018-19 — holding a selection of popular works from the central collection and provide free wi-fi.
d. Heritage incentive funding — our heritage buildings constitute 11 per cent of all heritage building outside of Auckland and are an integral part of the culture of the city. We plan to provide more funds to help owners comply with preservation initiatives.
e. Sport and recreation — council plans to implement a strategy with a budget of $100,000 in 2018-19.
f. Changes to levels of service — unchanged will be water supply, wastewater network, parks and recreation, roading and footpaths; enhanced will be the gallery development, iwi engagement and stormwater.
So how will it all be paid for? On average, over the 10 years, council will need about $93 million to fund services and between 65 per cent and 75 per cent of this comes from rates, with the balance from central government subsidies and charges that council invoices for services it offers.
It is expected rate rises will average 2.4 per cent a year over 10 years. This year the average will higher (5.6 per cent for residential properties because of first-year costs of the new sewage plant).
We know there are a number of residents with limited means to pay additional rates
Opinion: Give your feedback in the big issues, and we have shown since being elected 18 months ago we are looking for every possible way to make economies, operational efficiencies, and more modest expectations of new expenditures.
We are looking for your responses to the proposals in the long-term plan. You can contact us by email (our email addresses are on the council website, or you can make a direct submission to the website).