Full council meeting (5 March)

The regular full council meeting was held on 5 March 2015. All councillors were in attendance with apologies from Cr Mirfin.

The agenda included the following items: (1) Gowan river east bank access, (2) Best island public road access, (3) rates remission policy for rezoned land, (4) LTP and consultation document approval for public release, (5) chief executive’s report, (6) mayor’s report, and (7) machinery resolutions.

In this post I will focus on the main issues.

Gowan river access

Access to the Gowan river has been a long standing issue. Essentially it concerns the padlocking of a dirt road that is considered on paper to be a public road (ie, the legal road).

By way of background, a public road leads up to the locked gate. Nothing prevents people driving up to the locked gate. Beyond the gate is a dirt road. On either side of this dirt road is farm land. The dirt road is not fenced off from the surrounding farm land.

The dirt road does not always follow the path of the legal road and in some parts it crosses private land (to avoid going into the river). This means that at several “pinch” points, public road access temporarily ceases, either because the legal road enters the river, or the actual dirt road crosses private land. The first pinch point is only 1.7km from the locked gate.

In 2007, an application was made to place a gate across the road. That application did not seek to lock the gate. The lock appears sometime after that application.

In 2009, the council entered an agreement with the owner of the farm land. This agreement allowed the gate to be locked to protect the owners stock, while allowing people to continue to walk or cycle along the dirt road.

The owner also undertook to provide a key to the gate for vehicles requiring access. This was to allow the owner to know who might be in close proximity to stock. Unfortunately there are people about who steal stock.

A sign was also installed explaining the restrictions and process for vehicle access.

In my opinion, this is a very pragmatic solution, that is open to review when the 2009 agreement comes up for renewal or expires.

At all times, the public have access to the legal road. Either from walking, cycling, or (upon request) with a vehicle. The public also have the benefit of using parts of the dirt road that are on private land, rather than having to use the river. The use of private land is clearly a benefit that the public could not otherwise expect.

Council unanimously supported the CEO’s recommendation that the current arrangement remain and not to issue a notice to remove the lock on the gate.

I imagine, that when the agreement comes up for renewal the locked gate could be moved 1.7km further up the dirt road to where the first pinch point is located. This would probably also require the owner to correspondingly fence off the dirt road from their land.

Best island public road

When I first stood for election, I visited all the residents of Best Island (as well as many other ratepayers). At that time, it was apparent to me that a solution to a long standing road access dispute was required, so that everyone could move forward.

Council has since made some headway that involves an initiative to purchase land off residents and formally develop an unsealed public road for the benefit of all ratepayers (as illustrated below). This solution may not necessarily provide restitution for all the complex web of  wrongs or mistakes of the past, but it is a positive decision to move forward.

BestIsland

Unfortunately, progress has stalled over land valuations and it is now felt that council may need to use the Public Works Act. Ideally, the landowners will re-engage with Council to reach a private negotiated settlement. However, if the matter is dealt with through the Environment Court, it is likely to take up to 2 years to reach a conclusion.

The estimated project cost is $335,000. This includes: survey costs, valuation expenses, land purchase, Reserves Act processes (if required), registration of easements, road improvements, and legal expenses for the Council, and the respective Ashton and Irvine families.

Staff expect $35,000 to be spent before 30 June 2015, and the balance, of $300,000 to be funded from existing Long Term Plan roading budgets. In addition, a land owner contribution of around $5,000 per property will be levied to offset the costs and recognise any private benefit from the road.

Council resolved to authorise the chief executive to issue a “notice of desire to acquire land” at Best Island for road and walkways under the Public Works Act. The proposed road will require both the Irvine and Ashton land, but does not provide road frontage to all properties.

Public access to a boat ramp and various beach front walkways will provide benefits for the wider community. While the boat ramp has not had major use in the past and is dependent on the tide, improved road access will enable greater public use. And that must be a good thing.

In my mind the parties need to work on the best solution going forward and not dwell on trying to address the past. It happened and nothing can now change that. I am hopeful that all parties will reach a fair agreement and avoids any future problems, without incurring the additional expense of lawyers. Because the only winners (financially), will be the lawyers.

Rates remission for rezoned land

As discussed in an earlier post, the community development committee considered whether the council’s policy on “rates remission for rezoned land” should include a sunset clause.

The current policy recognises a tension between enabling land to be developed (for residential or commercial property purposes) versus not forcing people off their land. These tensions came to ahead during the Headingly Lane saga, where rural land was rezoned as residential, resulting in an unaffordable 400% rates increase for several ratepayers.

A trade-off between these two tensions was the development of a council discretion to award remissions on these rates increases on an annual basis.

The problem with an annual discretion, is that there is no guarantee or certainty that the discretion will be provided each year. Therefore the ratepayer could never plan ahead and always had hanging over their heads the threat of a dramatic rates increase.

A sunset clause would provide certainty for ratepayers, developers, and council, about how long the remissions would be extended and when the land could be expected to begin development.

A 10 year sunset period was considered a sufficiently long enough time period for the ratepayer to get their affairs in order and develop, or dispose of their land (or part of it) at a fair price, and with dignity.

I supported a 10 year period, comprising a 100% remission of the increase in rates for the first 6 years, and a stepped down remission (of 20%) for each of the next 4 years (eg, 6+4 year remission policy). I moved this motion as an amendment to the current policy, supported by Cr Bouillir.

No other councillors supported this motion, as they favoured a shorter period – either: 4+2 years (with the last 2 years remitted at 33%), or 1+3 years (with the last 3 years remitted at 25%).

The two alternative 6 and 4 year sunset periods were expected to be considered at this meeting. However, Mayor Kempthorne proposed a compromise, 5 year (3+2) sunset period. This was moved by Cr Higgins and seconded by Cr Ensor.

To mitigate the damage of such a short remission period, I proposed an amendment (seconded by Cr Bouillir) – removing the 2 year step down period, so that the 100% remission period would be for the full 5 years. However, I also indicated that I would not support any sunset period less than 10 years.

Without my amendment, the 100% remission period would only be for 2 years. In my opinion, 2 years was far too short and was not in keeping with the spirit of the compromise reached with residents on the current remission policy.

Using the Headingly Lane example, this would mean that the rates would double from year 2 to year 3 (a 100% increase), as they headed towards a 400% increase by year 6 (when there would be no remission allowed).

Cr King then questioned whether this was the time to be curbing the scope of the remission policy when the council had a great message in the LTP to convey to the public. His concern was that this message would be lost in the negativity that would arise from the proposed change to the remission policy.

On this basis he asked Cr Higgins whether he would withdraw his motion to change the remission policy – which he then did. Effectively, the resolution was lost unless someone else moved the same motion.

At this point in the meeting the mayor called for a short adjournment as various councillors discussed what they should do next. Fortunately, none sought to move the motion. Thus, the status quo was held.

The chief executive then proposed an alternative resolution, which sought to place the current remission policy (rather than the proposed policy) before the public, for public consultation. This was unanimously supported by councillors.

Chief executives report

The chief executive issued a report, as a late item, under a separate cover to the agenda. The report covered a number of items including: (1) a review of several strategy and planning issues, (2) a drive to use technology to reduce staff costs (and where feasible increase public participation), (3) an update from the regional sector group and CEO forum, in particular reforms to the RMA and importance of risk management, (4) a financial update, (5) a health and safety update and new initiatives, and (6) the Murchison visitor information centre function being delivered by the local museum.

As well as a reminder that private emails and texts sent by councillors (in that capacity) are official information.

The finance update for the period ended January 2015 showed an accounting deficit of $1.227 million compared with the budgeted surplus of $4 million. A negative variance of $5.232 million. A significant portion due to a book entry loss on interest swap revaluations.

When the loss on interest rate swaps is removed, the council has a positive variance of $3.112 million. With expenditure currently tracking below budget by $3.476 million.

Savings mainly came from: reduced interest costs ($1.2 million), reduced emergency works ($0.144 million), and reduced maintenance costs ($2.582 million).

The balance sheet remains in a strong position. External debt is $149.1 million (forecast to be $174.3 million at the end of the fiancial year in June). The capital expenditure budget is $48.4 million (including carryovers of $17.4 million from previous financial years). Capital expenditure is currently around $18 million compared to the forecast expenditure of $36 million.

Consultation

The long term plan (LTP) and consultation documents will have been released to the public (see http://www.tasman.govt.nz/policy/public-consultation/2015-2025-long-term-plan/). Submissions close on 20 April 2015.

I hope to provide a summary of the key messages (and my opinions) on the LTP in a subsequent post. Generally, its a good document and our efforts in meeting the new format requirements has received very positive comment from the auditor general.

However, there were items that were added by staff late in the process and which could not be removed before the draft plan was released to the public, due to the finance team being stretched to recalibrate the finances if removed. Such was the pressure to get the plan out on time.

For example, the late addition of two new sets of traffic lights on Salisbury Road (one at the Queen Street intersection and one at the William Street T-junction). In my opinion, these additions are not required, and the money could be better spent minimising storm water risk in Richmond South, Bateup Road, Wensely Road, and other spots in Richmond where homes flooded.

I would advise the public to read the activity management plans. These are the extra documents. These plans outline what work will be done (or not done) and when.

Agenda and minutes

The agenda and minutes can be found at http://www.tasman.govt.nz/council/council-meetings/standing-committees-meetings/full-council-meetings/?path=/EDMS/Public/Meetings/FullCouncil/2015/2015-03-05.

Media

National business review http://www.nbr.co.nz/article/nz-councils-good-financial-health-debt-costs-dropping-future-funding-still-concern-bd-168450

The Herald http://www.nzherald.co.nz/business/news/article.cfm?c_id=3&objectid=11399768

The Nelson Mail http://www.stuff.co.nz/nelson-mail/news/67414134/Council-seeks-island-road-solution

 

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