Full Council and Community Development meetings (13 February 2014)

February and March 2014 have been a very busy period for myself, with attendance at council meetings and planning workshops taking up a lot of time – not to mention all the associated reading of documents that has to be undertaken. So much for trying to also sustain a personal income. I can now see why some councillors are so keen to top up their part-time remuneration with as many director appointments, chair roles, and commissioner roles, as they can leverage or muster.

February 13th was certainly a busy morning, with the Community Development meeting following hot on the heels of a Full Council meeting. Together with Richmond Ward councillors meeting to discuss the revised Richmond reserves fund. Interestingly, full council meetings are suppose to happen every 6 weeks, but this has not been the case over the start of this year – and in the process has caused some understandable confusion for some residents.

Apart from the mayor (who submitted his apologies for not attending), all councillors were present for both meetings.

Full Council Meeting

The council considered the following agenda items: (1) appointment of advisors to the regional transport committee, and (2) the Richmond water treatment plant project (located in lower Queen Street). The agenda was unusually much shorter than a normal full council meeting and was subsequently followed by another full council meeting a week later on 19 February. Neither were called as extraordinary meetings.

In public forum, Jo-anne Ellis spoke about her concerns about the recycle centre’s demise and the Richmond water treatment plants location and design. She expressed concerns that it was not widely communicated to the public other than in the long term plan.

Regional transport committee advisors

Questions were raised about the need for the appointed of advisors to the regional transport committee and the projected cost ($4,500 per year). However, it was explained that the advisors rarely claimed the $150 meeting fee (eg the police and TRNZ covered their own costs), and advisors had been used before. Further, the appointment of advisors provided a more robust discussion from targeted interest groups (eg cultural and mobility groups) ensuring issues did not arise later in the process. An ambulance at the top, rather than the bottom, of the process. Appointed advisors included: Karen Leee (environmental issues), Bill Findlater (economic issues), Inspector Jeniffer Richardson (safety), Geoff Cameron (public health), Donna Smith (mobility), Frank Hippolite (cultural issues). Together with a representative from Nelson and Marlborough councils.

Richmond water treatment plant

Most of councils time was spent discussing the Richmond water treatment plant. And this was of particular interest to me given the size and importance of the investment.

The water treatment plant will be located in lower Queen Street near Headingly lane and McShanes Road. A good map of the pipework is provided in the agenda (page 15, para 7.10). Effectively the treatment plant will blend two groundwater sources to achieve required nitrate levels together with an ultra-violet treatment to achieve protoza levels in accordance with New Zealand drinking water standards prescribed by statute. Pumps will also be upgraded.

The project is planned to cost roughly $9.5 million. Work will be spread over two years (roughly $4.7 million per year). However, tenders for the project placed its cost well over budget. Council staff have since reviewed the scope of the project finding a number of savings to bring it back into budget. Most of the savings involve deferring replacement of estimated pipework (31% of the tender value).

Apparently for some time now council have been deferring expenditure on a water treatment plant. However, due to potential national water standard breaches (resulting in water boil notices being issued), and water management plans having to be resubmitted if the project did not proceed (a costly exercise), council could no longer defer this project. Richmond is one one of the few towns left in the country that does not currently comply with protoza treatment.

Why such an important project was deferred given $26 million dollars was borrowed to fund community facilities raises some questions over council’s earlier priorities. However, thats history now and this council is reprioritising where it spends ratepayer’s money.

Community Development Meeting

The committee considered the following agenda items: (1) presentation from the Nelson School of Music, and reports on (2) the Moutre Hills Community centre extension (ministerial consent), (3) portable seating for rugby events, (4) the Golden Bay Community facility working party, (5) funding applications, and (6) the ecofest and environment awards. Together manager’s reports on community development and relations. A useful action sheet of council activity is also provided in the agenda.

Portable seating

The most discussed topic was the request from the rugby union to reduce the council’s charges for the use of the council’s portable seating for both the Marko games and the Crusaders game. After some discussion about the equipment being repaired by volunteer groups it was judged that a reduced rate could be afforded and the council was directed to return to the unions with a revised proposal. The poor state of the equipment (and possibly pieces being lost or swapped with other companies equipment) raised questions over the proper management of the potable seating and equipment warranties. Apparently floors were crumbling, when they were suppose to be manufactured from marine ply.

Golden Bay shared recreational facility

Unfortunately, the Golden Bay recreational facility is a hotly debated topic. In part, this is because of decisions and agreements made around the council table by earlier councils. In my opinion, it should have been the first community facility constructed by the council as it went about borrowing over $26 million to fund a number of community and recreational facilities around the Tasman area. Unfortunately it was not, and has been the last cab off the rank.

This is disappointing, as the Golden Bay community is probably the most isolated of all the Tasman communities. It is now even more unfortunate, given the current financial environment. Council is now confronted with keeping debt down – and projects now have to be revisited with a fresh perspective and revised priority. The question we face is do we spend money now Golden Bays community facilities or do we wait another 10 or 20 years time, when we might be in a better financial position to afford them.

I’ve visited the community facilities in Golden Bay. The sports ground facilities are in reasonable condition and have been well looked after by the community, who are clearly proud of what they have. Apart from the stand (located above the rugby club rooms), not meeting current earthquake standards (and these standards could change), and the need to improve discrete access to showers for visiting teams, it would appear the asset has a number of years still left in it.

To my mind I wonder if we have been replacing community assets to quickly and not sweating them a little more. For the sports ground in Golden Bay I wonder if a cheaper option would be for council to close the stand (and wait for earthquake standards to be lowered by forthcoming legislation), as well as provide some temporary screens between visitors changing rooms and showers.

Another important consideration that council needs to weigh up whether deferring investment in community facilities is a wise decision, is that the community already has on its door step the most amazing natural facilities and parks – something Richmond does not have. It has fantastic beaches and reserves. Do we need to provide even more public activities for the community than are already available? Are we over capitalising our community development expenditure in a region that has the smallest population base?

As you can see the debate is hard. Expectations may not be fulfilled in the short term. But council has to confront these hard choices. I think deferring further investment until we can afford it is the most prudent decision we can make. Council is obliged to take a district wide view. We’ve already made a sizeable investment (and debt) in community facilities already. Our spending priorities must now shift to protecting peoples homes and ensuring we have adequate storm water protection in place for now and in the future.

That all said, the decision of council was to approve the design phase to get a better picture of overall costs and to cap any investment of council to $3.5 million (being 80% of the overall cost). This allowed the community to also have a better picture of how much they would need to raise towards the project to get it over the threshold and off the ground.

A copy of the recreational facility plans can be found here http://www.tasman.govt.nz/policy/public-consultation/feedback-form-golden-bay-community-recreation-facility-concept-plan/

Note! Since that meeting, council has decided to remove the Golden Bay recreational facility from the annual plan for the 2014-15 year. And to leave discussion about future investment in the facility to the long term plan. If you support the council’s decision to do this you should make a submission to the annual plan acknowledging your support. A risk of council showing some leadership on this issue is that all of the submissions on the annual plan may come from only those people opposed to the decision to remove the facility from next years planned expenditure. And therefore result in the facility being put back into the plan. This is because council are obliged to take into consideration submissions on the annual plan from the community. That is why we have a consultation process on the annual plan. Therefore, if you think the facilities removal from the annual plan is a good idea, do tell council. And if you have any other ideas to save money – do tell council.

Richmond reserves fund

Each Ward has a reserves fund that is used to make improvements to local reserves and parks. For the next financial year we are looking to ensure that funds are spent on the basis of money received, rather than on planned income. In the past, money was spent on the basis of projected income. However, sometimes that projection did not materialise, leaving a short fall between planned expenditure and projected income. As part of a new approach of living within our means we will only be spending money we have actually received. This means that we will not be doing a lot of reserves work in the next financial year. Further, as part of our collective wish to reduce debt, we will be looking to direct surplus reserve funds towards debt reduction.

Agenda and minutes

The Agenda and minutes for the full council meeting and community development meeting can be found at: (1) http://www.tasman.govt.nz/council/council-meetings/standing-committees-meetings/full-council-meetings/?path=/EDMS/Public/Meetings/FullCouncil/2014/2014-02-13 and (2) http://www.tasman.govt.nz/council/council-meetings/standing-committees-meetings/community-services-committee-meetings/?path=/EDMS/Public/Meetings/CommunityServicesCommittee/2014/2014-02-13.

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