Full council meeting (30 July)

The full council meeting was held on 30 July 2015. Apologies were received from Cr Canton (and Cr King and Bouillir for lateness). Cr Norris announced he had to leave for another meeting at 11am. All other councillors were present.

The agenda included the following items: (1) activity management plan approval, (2) special projects funding criteria for the Motueka community board, (3) economic development funding outputs, (4) parking at Mapua wharf, (5) joint development standards project for Nelson and Tasman, (6) reserve land re-classification for Takaka service centre, (7) Waimea community dam project updates, (8) the CEO’s activity report, (9) mayor’s report, and (10) machinery resolutions and action items update.

I will focus on the important topics.

Public forum

There were three presentations at the public forum. My thanks to all three ratepayers (Ray, David, and Penny) who raised some good points.

The first raised concerns over the cost of water compliance reports that were posted to a ratepayer. They felt that if some unnecessary costs could be reduced (eg double sided paper, so two pages not 4 pages, and\or emailed instead of posted), water monitoring fees could be reduced. They felt council were not working very smartly to keep costs down.

I certainly welcomed this reminder that all aspects of council’s business needed to be operating smarter. Every time council do something, staff (and councilors) need to be asking, how can we do this smarter and more cost effectively. We have made some progress in some areas, but we still have room for improvement in others. Its a process of continual improvement.

The second item related to the Motueka community board and concerns that the criteria would unduly prohibit community driven projects. It was felt many community projects already undertaken would not have met the criteria. Accordingly, some wording changes were suggested. I will talk more about this issue below.

The third item related to council minutes. Concerns were raised that the minutes did not accurately record the opinions of councillors and that a degree of accountability of councillors decisions was lost.

I agree. Its why I write this blog, so that people know where I stand on particular issues, and why I often ask for divisions on controversial issues.

Waimea community dam

There were several items (including confidential items) on the the Waimea community dam (the Dam). The first item related to Dam costs to date, and importantly the write off cost for the council, should the Dam not proceed with any council funding (see item 8.5 at page 69). The second item provide an update on work streams (see item 8.6 at page 73).

Background

By way of background, the Dam project is governed by a project steering group that includes the mayor, Cr King, Cr Higgins, and directors from Waimea Community Dam Ltd (WCDL), which is a private company representing irrigator interests. Any decisions requiring council involvement or funding have to come back to council for approval.

Information about WCDL and its constitution can be found on the companies office website (see https://www.business.govt.nz/companies/app/ui/pages/companies/3365573).

WCDL is responsible for raising capital from irrigators, crown irrigation (a government agency), and financial institutions (like banks). The Dam project is being co-ordinated within council, with council staff delivering many of the necessary work stream outputs.

The relationship of the parties is illustrated in the following updated diagram (page 79 of the agenda).

GovDam20150730

Workstreams

Work streams include:

  • Financial reporting and funding. This work stream is ongoing (see financial discussion below). WCDL is seeking funds from the MPI’s irrigation acceleration fund.
  • Project management. Work streams that are not critical have been put on hold pending a satisfactory response from WCDL on their business model and funding.
  • Communication. A part-time resource is being recruited to provide communication support (including preparing funding proposals) for WCDL.
  • Governance. The funding and support agreement with WCDL has expired. New agreements will need to be entered into for any more funding. The transfer of the resource consents from WCDL to council (as required under the funding and support agreement) is pending. This was discussed in-committee (in a confidential session). More work on the ultimate form of co-investment needs to be finalised. At present, WCDL has no proposition to take to potential investors.
  • Land. Negotiations regarding an acceptable price for the sale of land are ongoing. An agreement on the negotiation process is ready to go to potential land owners.
  • Procurement. Beca has completed preparing a fee proposal for the procurement strategy.
  • Resource consents. The consent (with conditions) has been granted. A condition of the consent is the re-location of the “shovel mint” plant and preparation of a biodiversity management plan.
  • Plan changes. Draft amendments to the TRMP to better reflect Dam funding arrangements is currently under consideration. Submissions closed 31 July 2015.
  • Statutory processes. It is contemplated that there will be another special consultative process before council embarks on any joint investment in the Dam project.

Financials

The council has sought greater clarity over the council’s financial write down exposure, should the Dam not proceed. Basically, how much will TDC have spent by the time a decision is made on whether to start construction (or not). At this stage, it is estimated that the estimated write-off cost for council would be $2.449 million.

Mapua wharf parking

The expected parking shortfall from wharf redevelopment work (that includes the new $1.35 million Mapua development (shed 4), and the planned removal of parking within the wharf area) has provoked council to rethink its planned roll out of parking improvements for the Mapua wharf area.

The council had planned to spend $180,000 this financial year (2015-16), and another $350,000 in 2018-19 to complete construction of 100 parking spaces (at a total cost of $530,000).

The transportation manager (Gary Clarke) advised council that the project could be brought forward into the 2015-16 financial year at a total cost of $300,000, due to a revised parking design concept – providing an overall saving of $280,000.

The $300,000 would be funded from bringing forward $70,000 of the $350,000 intended to be spent in 2018-19, plus the $180,000 intended to be spent in 2015-16, plus a $50,000 contribution from the Mapua development. While the proposed costs are only estimates (and a degree of contingency needs to be built into the $300,000) there is an expectation tender pricing will be sharper.

This arrangement would also increase the total cost of the Mapua development to $1.4 million (ie $1.35 million + $50,000). As I have stated in earlier posts, I believe that if council felt compelled to become a landlord to ensure there was an ice cream vendor in the precinct (rather than regulator), it should have pursued a low cost container development (eg, $200,000), that would have allowed a good return on investment, while allowing lower (affordable) rents to be charged for tenants.

Special projects funding criteria

The Motueka community currently pay a $5 per annum charge in their rates that (contributes about $24,000) to the Motueka Community Board’s special projects fund. This amount is planned to increase to $10 in the 2015-16 year, resulting in a contribution of about $48,500.

Spending of the special projects fund is governed by a policy document that is administered by the Motueka Community Board. Before funding can be allocated to a special project by the Board, it must fulfill the policy criteria. Generally, the fund is for projects that are low priority for the district, but high priority for the ward.

To ensure funds are properly allocated the policy was revised. However, concerns were raised by board member Ogilvie that the revised policy was to restrictive. In his public forum presentation, he suggested that the general waivor (consideration number 15) from the 14 preceding criteria was overly restrictive as the circumstances had to an “extraordinary situation”. He suggested the word “extraordinary” should be deleted. To support his argument he suggested many projects undertaken by the board would probably not be considered “ extraordinary”. Applying the new criteria, he felt many of the projects already delivered by the board could not be considered “extraordinary”. For example, a road crossing was hardly extraordinary.

I raised board member Ogilvie’s argument as part of my questions – to put the matter on the table. I also raised questions over the priority given to health and safety issues within the criteria. My concern was the health and safety plan requirement (consideration number 10) appeared to overridden by the “extraordinary situation” waivor provided to the board.

Staff reassured council that this was not the intention. That the board would always have to keep in mind health and safety considerations when approving any project application – including the ability for the board “to consider and approve” application that did “not fully meet the criteria described in the policy”. Staff also reassured council that many of the examples provided by board member Olgilvie would meet the “extraordinary situation” threshold or would have met the other criteria without the need for the board to seek a waivor from the preceding criteria.

Cr Edgar also raised concerns over the wording of consideration number 8. Staff emphasised that projects had to be “bricks and mortar” type projects (eg maintenance of existing infrastructure). For clarification, staff reordered the wording.

Council resolved to approve the revised policy criteria with amendments that emphasised the underlying health and safety constraints on the boards exercise of any of the criteria.

CEO’s activity report

The chief executives activity report covered a number of items. These included: (1) the shared services memorandum with nelson council, (2) human resource (staff) update, and (3) financial update.

Financials

Provisions financial results for the 2014-15 year (June end) have been completed.

The accounting position provides a positive variance (surplus) against budget of $4.611 million ($13.916 million surplus compared with a budgeted surplus of $9.305 million). Council also achieved an operational surplus of $5.435 million (a $7.025 million reduction on budgeted expenditure against a reduced income of $1.59 million), and an adjusted operational surplus (including revaluations and dividends) of $7.318 million.

The reduction in budgeted expenditure ($7.05 million) was due to a number of factors including interest cost savings ($2.665 million), and maintenance cost savings ($4.4 million). It is noted that capital growth was higher than budgeted, with an additional $200,000 collected from rates, and an additional $260,000 from water meters.

Capital expenditure was $33.872 million. However, the overall capital expenditure budget was $48.682 million, which included $17.34 million of 2013-14 carry-overs, approved by council in October.

Closing debt is expected to be around $147 million for the 2014-15 year.

Overall a good result and certainly heading in the right direction.

Human resources

Collective employment agreement bargaining with the New Zealand Public Service Association (PSA) has concluded and is expected to be within budget.

Council are currently at various stages of recruiting for a: (1) communications officer – new (0.6 FTE), (2) administration officer – resource consents – replacement (0.4 FTE); (3) administration officer – commercial – new (1 FTE); and (4) policy planner – urban and rural development – replacement (1 FTE).

All positions are within approved budgets for staffing and are either replacement positions, or new budgeted positions, or new positions funded from within available budgeted funds (what the report misguidedly terms “unbudgeted”, but probably better described as unplanned). For example, staff might not be replaced immediately due to an extended recruitment process and the delay in replacement provides funding room for a new unplanned position.

Current staffing levels are:

Full-time Part-time Casual Fixed-term
Office of the CEO

5

1 1
Community development

47

31 2

0

Corporate services

38

1 0

3

Engineering

40

2 0

1

Environment and planning

81

11 0

5

Total 211 46 2

10

Some good analysis on staff numbers and turn-over (over a number of years) are provided in the supplementary late agenda (pages 19 to 21). Generally, council has an average annual staff turn-over of around 8-9% with 15.3% of staff, 60 years or older.

For me, both statistics are quite informative. First, a large portion of staff will be entering retirement soon. This is an operational risk for the organisation and succession planning needs to be put in place for key roles.  Secondly, staff turn-over is quite low. The national average is around 16.3% for 2014, and 13.5% for public sector entities with more than 100 staff (see http://www.lawsonwilliams.co.nz/userfiles/file/2014%20NZ%20Staff%20Turnover%20Survey%20-%20Summary%20Report.pdf). The low turn-over might indicate good organisational moral, or an unstable economy where people are unsure of changing jobs. Low turn-over also means that new thinking is not entering the organisation.

Shared services

A memorandum of understanding (MoU) on shared services was signed entered into by Tasman, Nelson, and Marlborough councils in July 2012. The excutive teams of all three councils had agreed to recommend the agreement lapse and this was proposed in the original resolution before council.

However, the recent statements by the Minister of Local Government suggested that it might be appropriate to keep the agreement in place. The minister had stated  at a recent local government conference (in Rotorua on 19-21 July 2015) that (my emphasis):

It is time for sustained, locked in change. So I reiterate, I will not legislate for large amalgamation. I am as tired as our communities are of having an argument over how many mayors there should be and over whom is bigger than whom and which area will dominate. Size doesn’t always matter, but long term sustainable growth in the best interests of all New Zealanders should. … This might mean a CCO on water or transport across a region. It could mean a different business structure or increased responsibilities and accountabilities for Regional Councils. It could even mean in areas that might put a number of CCOs in place for key growth and infrastructure that there is no longer a need for a Regional Council. Some councils may even choose to amalgamate. I fully understand and accept that one solution will not work across all of New Zealand. That is why the Local Government Commission will be working up various structure options for each region to look at and decide what works best for them, and then where necessary I will legislate to either set a new CCO up across a region – or even to take something away. I have zero interest in imposing unwanted change on you. But you know that our regions are not as cohesive as they need to be to support our challenges and our future growth. So I implore you to do something about it. Be brave – own the change and both the Commission and I will do everything we can to assist and support you. But let me be clear – there will be change.

I certainly welcomed this message. It’s what the Tasman community have being saying for sometime. We do not want to amalgamate, but we do want to work smarter so we reduce the costs of local government (and our rates).

In my opinion, the thrust of the message for neighbouring councils is become “cohesive” to support the challenges of growth. That means working together through shared service arrangements where it makes sense to share services. Whether through shared service agreements, or other delivery vehicles (eg, council controlled organisations (CCOs) , limited liability partnerships (LLPs), or other entities).

York valley landfill is the first major shared service arrangement between Nelson and Tasman for sometime. But it should not be the last. Both councils should be pro-active in identifying more opportunities to reduce costs and share services.

Agenda and minutes

The agenda (including supplementary late reports) and minutes are located at http://www.tasman.govt.nz/council/council-meetings/standing-committees-meetings/full-council-meetings/?path=/EDMS/Public/Meetings/FullCouncil/2015/2015-07-30.

 

 

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