Long term plan meeting (full council) 28 May

The following is a speech I had prepared for the full council meeting (held on 28 May 2015) on long term plan (LTP), which Cr Bouillir had kindly undertaken to read out in my absence.

Long term Plan Speech

My sincere apologies for not being able to attend this meeting. However, if I did not attend my brothers wedding (in London), I’m not sure he would speak to me again.

Although I could not make today’s meeting, it does not remove the opportunity for the community to know where I stand on many of the big issues, and where I would have voted, having heard and read all the submissions.

There are many decisions being made today. I take some comfort from workshop discussions held two weeks ago, that some good first steps are being made. However, there are still a number of issues where I do not agree with the majority of councillors. I only hope that councilors have further reflected over the intervening weeks, and will come to the right decision today.

Today, I wish to briefly highlight four issues: (1) debt and rates, (2) storm water, (3) roading expenditure, and (4) the dam.

Debt and rates

While I congratulate the councillors for drawing a line in the sand on rates increases and debt, this should only been seen as a first step.

There are further opportunities to save money (and further reduce rates increases), and I take some comfort that some moves to save money have been progressed.

For example, last week we heard of the cost saving from reviewing one of our annual publications – reducing the cost of production from $40,000 to $5,000. Over 10 years, that is a $350,000 saving.

This should have been done years ago.

As you know I feel other council publications require the same degree of examination. There is room for more savings.

A number of submissions have called for greater savings in this area. I would ask, that while council has set budgets for publications, that these budgets are further reduced over the coming months.

And publishing, is not the only area, where we need to be challenging ourselves to work smarter.

Storm water

Storm water is by far the biggest area of concern for our community.

And rightly so.

However, I still do not believe, we have the right balance in funding, or adequately addressing, this critical infrastructure.

There is a great deal of angst in our community over flooding risk. This is a concern that is strides above any other concern with transport or community development initiatives.

If we truly acknowledge that concern, then we should be shifting more funds to known hotspots in the Richmond area while also addressing the storm water concerns of the central Richmond business district.

I do not support funding more traffic improvements while the community are asking there money to be spent on storm water. Given the growing risk of another event, it should be an over-riding duty to mitigate that risk and ensure the storm water solutions promoted by staff can be achieved earlier and faster.

If we are not prepared to do that then we need to ensure those known hotspots around Richmond are at least mitigated in the interim.

Its about priorities!

Roading expenditure

We need to stop over-capitalising on roading initiatives.

I would like to see budgets for traffic improvements on Salisbury road and a number of other road widening initiatives (that are not funded by development levies) removed from the plan.

In particular, I see no reason to spend $1.2M on the Salisbury Road\Queen Street intersection. The round-about works fine. There is no support for more traffic lights on this road, and there is no need to fund investigating alternatives here. Remove it, or shift those funds to storm water initiatives.

Furthermore, the $600,000 budget for the Salisbury Road\William Street intersection is more than adequate to fund any investigations of Salisbury Road and provide some pragmatic and cost effective solutions for the William Street intersection.

The Dam

The community have made it very clear that they do not support funding any private benefit.

I agree.

I do not believe that the district should be called on to subsidise private water consumers.

I also believe that this is a good guiding principle when considering issues associated with the dam, and is consistent with the “user-pays” ethos of the community.

It is also clear, that were it not for the extraction of water by irrigators and urban water consumers, the river would have a sufficient natural flow. On this basis, the only equitable basis to apportion the cost of funding the environmental benefit portion of the dam cost, is for it to be apportioned between irrigators and urban water consumers.

This means council should only contribute $14M towards any water solution (comprising $8M-$9M for future urban water needs, and $4M-$5M for restoring the natural environmental flow of the river that urban water consumers have extracted). In my mind, $14M is a fair figure and is probably the likely opportunity cost of an alternative water solution for urban water consumers. Council should not approve a $25M contribution.

In my opinion, council also has a duty to find a cost effective solution that protects future urban water needs. This might involve leveraging off a private dam venture, by funding some additional height in a an existing dam project, that provides sufficient water for urban water consumers – or it could mean funding an alternative solution.

In conclusion, I believe council should park any decision on contributing to a dam project, or any other solution, until such time as council knows if irrigators are able to advance such a dam project. It also provides council sufficient time to properly explore other solutions. To act otherwise, is in my opinion, not acting prudently. This might mean council defers any decision of contributing to an irrigator led dam project until later in the year – perhaps September this year?

Capitalisation of Dam Co Ltd

Council are also considering assisting with the capitalisation of the irrigator’s investment holding company – Dam Co Ltd.

In my opinion, council should not be providing any financial assistance to this company. This is a private company and council should now be conducting its dealings with Dam Co Ltd at arms length. Anything else, would suggest otherwise.

In my opinion, providing unsecured public funds to a privately owned company, is not consistent with the aforementioned guiding principles, or a council that should be acting prudently, to ensure public funds are adequately protected.

If the protagonists of the dam cannot raise approximately $300,000 to establish this company, there is clearly insufficient support for a dam, from irrigators. It’s only $300,000. That’s 10 irrigators contributing $30,000 each, or 30 irrigators contributing $10,000 each.

Many dam protagonists made mention of the economic benefits that the dam would provide. If they believe in such benefits, then I would have thought they would be falling over themselves to invest.

Its time for these people to put their money where their mouths are. It is not the role of council to be under-writing private ventures (or private benefits).

Closing remarks

Finally, I appreciate, that the long term plan is just that – a plan.

It is open to further improvements and direction. And that includes further operational savings.

I certainly welcome such an opportunity at the next annual plan.

Agenda and minutes

The agenda and minutes of this meeting are located at http://www.tasman.govt.nz/council/council-meetings/standing-committees-meetings/full-council-meetings/?path=/EDMS/Public/Meetings/FullCouncil/2015/2015-05-28.

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