The full council meeting was held on 3 December 2015. Apologies were received from Cr Mirfin and Cr Inglis (with Cr Bouillir arriving late from her drive over the Takaka hill). All other councillors were present.
The agenda included: (1) September quarterly financial update, (2) Waimea community dam project update, (3) velodrome easement, (5) chief executive’s activity report, (6) mayor’s report, (6) action items, (7) machinery resolutions. Council also considered a confidential item (in-committee) in relation to the public release of the 10 September 2015 in-committee report.
Public forum had two speakers. My general observation for this meeting was that council moved rapidly through the agenda with very little debate. Perhaps a reflection that this was another meeting of information updates and simple machinery decisions.
Maxwell Clarke complimented council on its quarterly financial report which he said was clear and precise. He also noted an improvement in communication from the engineering department over storm water work. However, Maxwell raised concerns over the limited time to speak (currently 3 minutes). He asked council to be more flexible. There was no reason why it could not be extended to 5 minutes. After all, Christchurch council provided 5 minutes. He also asked that council begin considering Plan B initiatives for water augmentation, given it was becoming very apparent that there was insufficient support for the Dam. He noted that 2700 ha (which was WCDL’s target) was 70% of all irrigators. He would be surprised if this was met at an $83 million funding level.
Martyn Barlow spoke about the concerns of the Mapua Boat Club and the restricted access to the boat ramp. He noted that TDC had now banned vehicles accessing the boat ramp between the hours of 10am and 7pm, due to “health and safety concerns”. This severely limits use for boat users who are dependent on the tide. Martyn noted that the commercialisation of the wharf precinct was done for businesses, tourists and visitors to Mapua – but not for the local community.
Martyn also stressed that boat use was on the increase and a boat ramp in the Mapua area was a necessity. One only had to see what was happening in Nelson. He noted that building the new Shed 4 had also compounded the parking and traffic management issues. In a circulated copy of his speech he stated that “… TDC has failed to meet their own objectives in the case of the local Mapua community’s use of coastal assets and we want to know why – and we expect our elected councillor’s to put it right! In the words of the late Alan Martin it’s the putting right that counts!”. I agree.
Unfortunately, council’s commercial aspirations in attempting to cover the entire site with the Shed 4 building (to maximise revenues), has meant access to the boat ramp is severely limited. In my opinion, a container development would have been less intrusive and met the aspirations of the council, businesses, and the community. The lack of vision and foresight by those councillors who supported this development has been exposed.
In my opinion, council may have to explore placing boat ramp access along the southern boundary of the reserve and allow boat users to share the carpark (which might have to be extended). If that can come in at around $80,000 then it would seem the most logical solution.
Waimea community dam project update
This was the fourth update report on the Waimea Community Dam Project. The report covers the period following the Council’s decision to transfer a joint interest in the resource consents for the dam to Waimea Community Dam Limited (WCDL) company.
Key points included:
- Resource consents. The resource consents are now jointly held by council and WCDL. The Deed terms were satisfied by agreement.
- Project Steering Group (PSG). The CEO has since withdrawn from direct involvement with the PSG in order to maintain independence and safeguard objectivity when providing advice to council. This leaves the PSG membership with: the Mayor, Cr King, Cr Edgar, and Cr Higgins.
- Structure. WCDL undertook to begin seeking preliminary expressions of interest based on its proposed corporate structure and P50 pricing model. WCDL were advised that Council did not agree with WCDL’s proposed structure or pricing model. WCDL were advised that any consultation using the WCDL proposal was a risky assumption.
- Procurement. An approach to procurement had been agreed. It was intended to issue a request for interest (ROI) in December. That time line has since slipped given the uncertainty on funding.
- Land. Draft agreements were sent to the private land owners at the end of October 2015. All parties had confirmed receipt by 6 November 2015. Department of Conservation (DOC)/Crown acquisitions are to track alongside the private landowner agreements. The LINZ land comprises part of the dam footprint. The proposal is to resume the paper road under the dam and preferentially allocate it to Council under the Land Act. A meeting was held with Frank Hippolite (Ngati Koata) to discuss the purchase (or other treatment) of Ngati Koata land.
- Plan change. A Plan change (two tier water allocation system) was notified on 19 September 2015, receiving 32 submissions.
- Project costs. Total direct project costs (capital and operational costs) for 2014-15 year (up to 30 June 2015) was $1.582 million ($1.483 million plus $99,000). An additional $250,000 was spent up to October 2015, bringing the total direct project cost (as at October 2015) to $1.832 million (see page 31 of the agenda for detailed costings).
Much of the discussion focused on procurement advice which was expected in 2016. This advice was preliminary in nature and low cost. The CEO stressed the need to ensure funding streams have been secured before any tenders started. He also stressed that any consultation would need to respond to issues raised by communities. I agree. I also asked that “write down” costs (which is the cost to council if it walked away from the project) are highlighted in any future update reports.
YTD October 2015
|Direct operational costs||
|Project capital costs||
|Indirect operational costs||
|Project Funding sources|
|WWAC opening balance||
|Loan funded balance||
September quarterly financial update
Council agreed to quarterly reporting to full council as part of a workshop held on 3 September 2015. The September 2015 quarterly financial report provides a snapshot of the financial highlights of the first quarter.
Year end Forecast
|Total Net Debt||
Overall the financial position of Council remains extremely strong and in line with year end budget expectations. The notable exception being the debtors balance.
Total net debt
The forecast year end net debt position for 2015-16 is now $159 million ($14 million lower than forecast in the LTP).
|Opening Net Debt||2015 July||$140,318 million|
|Net Debt||2015 September||$142,513 million|
|Forecast Net Debt||2016 June||$158,982 million|
|Net Debt||2016 June (per LTP)||$173,267 million|
Income is above budget by $734,000 with a forecast excess of $1.164 million at the end of the 2015-16 financial year.
Expenditure is below budget by $2.089 million with a forecast underspend of $2.126m at the end of the 2015-16 financial year.
The total debt ledger is up $1,843,076, and 3-month overdue ledger up $1,221,463, from September 2014.
Chief executive’s activity report
Highlights from the CEO’s report include:
- Finances. For the period ended October 2015 the Council had a surplus of $3.83 million above the budget. External debt is $144 million compared to a budget of $168 million. Capital expenditure is $18.47 million lower then budget on a year-to-date basis (subject to capital carryovers of $15.59 million).
- Health and Safety. Council have been invited to participate in a Safety Star Rating Scheme (SSRS), a new WorkSafe pilot scheme which is expected to replace the current ACC Workplace Safety Management Practices scheme (WSMP).
- Economic Development. The Economic Development Services Review Group met on 9 November 2015. The areas of focus for the new entity were agreed. And are aligned with council’s outcomes as prescribed in the funding agreement with Nelson council.
- Landfill. The basis for asset valuations of a joint landfill proposal with Nelson council has been agreed. In my opinion, this is an important step towards more shared services between both councils, and will be a win-win for ratepayers.
- Pre-election report. This is required to be produced prior to 1 July in the year that local elections are held. The purpose of a pre-election report is to provide information to promote public discussion about the issues facing the local authority. The financial information and the text will be prepared in April and May with the final version ready for sign off in mid- June.
Council resolved to grant an easement to Network Tasman to convey electricity to the new velodrome on Saxton field. The new power supply is expected to be substantially less intrusive than the old supply. The new power supply requires only one power pole and associated stays in a location where there is already an existing power pole. The rest of the supply is by way of underground cabling.
During the mayor’s report I asked mayor about what progress had been made over a request by residents for TDC to do a road swap with DoC on the Takaka Hill. According to reports, Doc had threatened to stop the public and property owners from using a reserve road on the top of Takaka Hill which was used to access private properties. The mayor advised that he would be facilitating a solution between residents, DoC, and TDC. I will be watching this space with interest.
I also advised councillors that I spoke on behalf of the council at the Inaugral Trans-Tasman Golf-Croquet Test series, which New Zealand had won. I have reported my speech in an earlier post.
These resolutions confirms documents signed under delegated authority and council seal. They included: a partial surrender of easement and alteration of easement in gross; and a forest management agreement with PF Olsen to manage the council’s forest estates for a term of 12 months (from 1 July 2015 to 30 June 2016).
This item arose from my request to release a confidential report to council on the Waimea Community Dam (dated September 2015). The mayor anticipating my request put a motion to council (recorded below) outlining his reasons why the report should not be released. While I am unable to summarise the discussion, I am able to report the voting. Although I am unable to report who supported making the voting public (and who did not).
Unfortunately, I did not secure support from the majority of council to make this report publicly available. Nor am I able to explain the arguments I made or the argument’s the mayor (and others) made. All I can say is that in my opinion the mayor’s argument made no sense and was quite ridiculous given some material would have been redacted. Clearly old habits are hard to break. The official minutes record the following resolution and outcome:
1. Receives the Request to Release 10 September In Committee Report report RCN15-12-08; and
2. Declines to publicly release RCN15-09-13 (Supplementary Report – Waimea Water Augmentation Project).
Cr Greening called for a division.
Agenda and minutes
The full council meeting was held on 10 September 2015. All councillors were in attendance.
The agenda included: (1) treasury policy change, (2) capital carry-overs, navigation safety by-law, (3) public transport regional plan, (4) speed limits review, (5) unmanned aircraft policy, (6) Nelson regional sewerage business unit, (7) economic development funding agreement, (8) mayor’s report, (9) Waimea community dam, and (10) CEOs report.
Two additional late items were also considered in confidence: (1) audit subcommittee independent member appointment, and (2) Waimea water augmentation project. I’m unable to talk to these items at present, as they were discussed in committee and have yet to have their confidential status lifted.
Finally, two items were raised in public forum – with one raising a very interesting legal issue.
Michael Croxford raised (and tabled) an interesting question regarding the treatment of development contribution levies by the council. By way of background, a developer (being the “consent holder” at the time the development is approved) will normally pay the council a development contribution. This financial contribution helps fund downstream infrastructural impacts from the development or proposed infrastructure that the development would benefit from.
In some instances council might decide not to proceed with implementing proposed infrastructural improvements. In those instances, council refunds the financial contribution to the consent holder (the original payor). In this instance, the Motueka coastal pipeline was removed from the long term plan requiring council to refund the development contribution. In some instances the original developer (the “consent holder” at the time) is no longer operating or has been liquidated. If it is a company it is normally removed from the companies register. However, removal from the companies office does not prevent a company re-registering.
Michael argued that the refund of development contributions, should go to the holder of the consent at the time it is deemed no longer required. Accordingly, where the developer no longer exists, the refund should go to the land owner as the subsequent holder of the consent. Essentially, his argument turned on whether the term “consent holder”, could import a wider meaning from examining other provisions of the Local Government Act (LGA) or Resource Management Act (RMA).
This matter was subsequently discussed during the Mayor’s report. The outcome of that discussion was that the council felt it had discharged its duty to determine (to the best of its ability) the legal position. That advice suggested that the “consent holder” was the payor (the original developer) and did not include the subsequent owner of the developed land. As Michael had not received a copy of the council’s legal opinion, it was felt that he should be provided a copy, so that he (and other residents) could decide whether they wanted to challenge the council’s legal advice.
Kit Maling spoke to the Waimea community dam update report (discussed below) and tabled a document outlining a resolution from the Waimea East Irrigation Company.
Waimea community dam
This item was a second (regular) project update for councillors. At this stage the project has been in slow mode (to avoid unnecessary expenditure) as discussions with WCDL progressed. The confidential briefing to councillors, updated much of what was stated in this part of the report. Once discussions with WCDL have been completed, planned work streams should move forward a little faster. The proposed work streams were outlined in my earlier post (see www.greeningtasman.wordpress.com/2015/09/08/full-council-meeting-30-july/).
Work that can be expected to re-gather momentum once discussions with WCDL have concluded are:
- formation of a biodiversity technical advisory group (BTAG) to prepare a biodiversity management plan (a resource consent condition).
- construction procurement process planning. It is being suggested that a two stage process (that comprises construction and design planning, followed by price negotiation and construction).
- business structure planning. WCDL has been considering a variety of options (prepared by Northington partners). Staff will present a report to full council in October that considers the various issues.
- preparation and review of pre-purchase agreements with landowners. These are agreements that hold open the ability to purchase the relevant land (at agreed prices), without actually entering into land sales. Effectively, the council avoids having to purchase land until there is agreement to proceed with a dam.
By way of background, WCDL acknowledged council’s recent offer to share the resource consent as joint resource consent holders (a 50:50 ownership arrangement). This is a change from councils original arrangement, where WCDL were contracted to secure the resource consent on behalf of the council and handing over the resource consent by a specified date or the formation of a CCO (which ever was earlier). WCDL has attached several conditions to this offer which council representatives have since brought back to council. Hence the confidential session.
I would hope that once all discussions with WCDL are completed, that relevant reports withheld under confidentiality are made public. I will certainly be advocating for this to happen.
So where to from here?
In my opinion, the process is at a critical fulcrum (or tipping point). I believe council needs to re-evaluate its relationship with WCDL. It has become very confusing and the lines between council and WCDL are very blurred. This has resulted in a great deal of uncertainty (and confusion) about who should be doing what, and who should be funding what.
At present council is both (sole) funder and service provider. Council is carrying all the risk (hence the growing concerns of council about the escalating write-off cost). Those roles need to be formally separated. Council should no longer be the sole funder and certainly not the main funder of a water solution that is being developed for the primary benefit of irrigators (who will receive over 2/3rds of the augmented water supply).
In my opinion, (as I have said repeatedly on this blog), WCDL needs to capitalise (as an investment holding entity for interested irrigators), so that it can take over this project as majority shareholder and funder of the dam. Like all investment vehicles, it needs start up capital to come from those investors who truly believe in this venture.
Once initially capitalised, WCDL can invest in developing a prospectus to secure more funding from potential investors to eventually invest into a Dam holding entity. The dam holding entity can then fund the services (and work streams) it needs to bring about the construction of a dam. Council can then evaluate whether it wants to invest in the venture or not. And can also compete against others, to provide project management services and technical expertise.
The parallel issue of water allocation and restrictions
Unfortunately, one of the most frustrating elements of the dam debate for me, is the confusion surrounding the water management (allocation and restriction) rules – which are set to change. Hardly anyone I speak to understands how these rules operate or how they impact on the way water is currently managed.
In my opinion council has done a very poor job in communicating the changing landscape of water management. This should have been communicated by council well before it began its conversation about water augmentation. Because this is “the” reason why council is having a debate about water augmentation solutions. Ironically, council were the ones who brought about these change in the rules, by way of a plan change a number of years ago.
However, the good news is that council has got its act together and is beginning to have this conversation. As part of the consultation process for proposed changes to the district plan rules, council will be hosting 2 open days for residents to meet and discuss the proposed plan changes. These are:
- Wednesday, 7 October 2015 at Richmond Council Chambers (focusing on urban water supply), and
- Thursday, 8 October 2015 at Seifried’s Estate, Redwood Rd (focusing on rural water permit holders).
Changes to water management rules
There are three changes to the water management rules.
First, water allocation is about to change. Basically, the amount of water people receive is likely to reduce. For example, people might have received a water allocation right of 10 litres, but only actually consumed 5 litres. This resulted in an over allocation of water. To correct this over-allocation, council will be reviewing peoples actual water usage. The review will re-calibrate water allocations so that they equal actual usage.
This re-calibration will also have an immediate affect on the impact of water restrictions on some water right holders. This is because water restrictions step down from the allocation right volume. If the allocation right volume was higher than real water consumption volume, the restrictions had no impact on water right holders. However, if the allocation right volume is the same as consumption, then restrictions will immediately affect the amount of water available for the water right holder.
For urban water users the allocation right volume is virtually identical to consumption. Effectively council has not purchased more water than it needs. Whereas, some rural water consumers have. This means any re-calibration of urban water will not result in any change.
The second change is the threshold for imposing water restrictions. The thresholds have changed (by way of an earlier plan change) so that they bite earlier (ie, at lower thresholds). These changes are even more severe for water users who will have their water allocation levels reduced to historical consumption levels (or use).
The third change (currently being consulted on) is the introduction of a dual water restriction system – one for those who are allocated water and are funding an increase in water supply (a dam funder), and one for those who are not. Those who choose not to fund an increase in water supply, will operate under the above rules (ie, the revised allocations that are equivalent to historical use, and lowered thresholds for water restrictions).
Those that fund a water supply increase, will effectively have a system that imposes water restrictions that take into consideration the additional water being added to the natural water supply. Effectively, using a different water restriction threshold, so that they can extract the water they have added to the river, before restrictions apply.
If council purchases water from the dam for urban users (estimated investment of $9 million) then they are less likely to see water restrictions. It should be noted that council has voted to provide $25 million towards the dam. With $13 million (of that $25 million) considered to be the environmental benefit contribution that will be rated across the whole district, against water club members (those people connected to a council provided water supply).
As I have said in earlier posts, I consider that the $13 million should be apportioned between the extractors (urban consumers and irrigators), rather than imposed across the district. Adopting an extractor pays approach would have resulted in council only contributing roughly $14 million towards water augmentation, rather than the $25 million that council has undertaken to provide in the LTP (see www.greeningtasman.wordpress.com/2015/06/02/long-term-plan-meeting-full-council-28-may/). In my opinion, the community should continue to put pressure on the councils (majority) decision to fund $25 million of the dam cost.
The council unanimously agreed to release for public consultation the draft consolidated bylaws on road speed limits for the district (see the “attachments” document at www.tasman.govt.nz/council/council-meetings/standing-committees-meetings/full-council-meetings/?path=/EDMS/Public/Meetings/FullCouncil/2015/2015-09-10).
A number of changes to road speed limits across the district are proposed. For example, Ranzau Road will have its speed limits reduced. Consultation is expected to begin from 14 September 2015 to 16 October 2015.
My advice for people wanting to a submission is to read the attachments document. This is because the attachment document highlights the proposed changes (via track changes), so that you can quickly identify any proposed changes. While the public consultation document will highlight if a speed has gone up or down, it won’t indicate the speed it has changed from.
The attachment document also includes very detailed assessments and reasons for why speed limits were proposed for changed (or not). Those assessments include a recommended speed (based on model), additional staff assessments (that consider aspects not included in the speed modeling), and the working party recommendations (being Crs Norris, Dowler, Higgins, Bryant, and Sangster).
In relation to school zones, the draft bylaw proposes a managed roll out of advisory signs. The only exception is for Brightwater, where the Brightwater school zone will have the benefit of a reduced speed limit. This was achieved by the mayor proposing a separate resolution that proposed a speed limit reduction for the main road in Brightwater. A number of councillors were upset with this move, as it appeared to give special treatment to one particular street (and school).
While, I could agree with those councillors, that this treatment was not fair, I nonetheless supported the separate resolution, as at least one school would benefit from the proposed speed reduction. However, I agree with those councillors who opposed the mayor’s maneuvering, that all other schools zones should have had similar treatment. No doubt those schools will be making a submission to council highlighting the difference in treatment and inviting council to lower speed limits on their roads.
Council’s current treasury policy requires any interest rate swap arrangements that are longer than 10 years to be approved by full council (which meets every 6 weeks). The proposed change sought to extend the delegated authority from 10 years to 12 years, to enable staff to take advantage of the swap market (which is very fluid at present), without having to wait 6 weeks for approval. Both the full council and corporate services meeting unanimously supported the proposed change.
This item was brought to full council from the corporate services meeting (held on 3 September) as the corporate services committee did not have authority to amend the treasury policy. This item was explained in detail at para 9.4 of the corporate services agenda (see www.tasman.govt.nz/council/council-meetings/standing-committees-meetings/corporate-services-committee-meetings/?path=/EDMS/Public/Meetings/CorporateServicesCommittee/2015/2015-09-03) and discussed in an earlier post (see www.greeningtasman.wordpress.com/2015/09/08/corporate-services-committee-3-september/).
Due to the nature of capital works, some projects planned to be undertaken in earlier financial years are either not started, or are not completed in the financial year they were planned. Often delays are due to weather or the cascading effect of other projects being delayed. This means funds that were allocated in an earlier financial year have to be brought forward into this financial year to enable the work to be completed or started.
Council unanimously supported the carry forward of $14.853 million from the 2014-15 year into the 2015-16 year. This does not have a financial impact in the 2015-16 year, as the funds for these projects has already been raised in the earlier years that these projects were planned to be completed. In the previous financial year, council carried forward around $20 million of capital projects. The reduction in carry forwards this year would suggest that council has made some progress in catching up on the delivery of these delayed projects.
A list of the projects being carried forward is listed in the agenda at page 15 to 23.
Council unanimously adopted the proposed “Navigation Safety Bylaw 2015” which comes into effect on 14 September 2015. The new 2015 bylaw replaces the old 2006 bylaw. All bylaws are located on the council website at www.tasman.govt.nz/policy/policies/bylaws/.
The new 2015 bylaw is the result of a review of the old 2006 bylaw that began in December 2013 and involved public consultation during early 2014. During that consultation period council received over 212 submissions.
Since the consultation period the government has further simplified the law. This has meant that the new 2015 bylaw does not have to reproduce all the rules contained in the parent Act. Therefore, anyone referring to the Navigation Safety Bylaw 2015 should also consult the parent Act (the Maritime Transport Act 1994, see www.legislation.govt.nz/act/public/1994/0104/latest/whole.html), associated regulations, and rules.
The regional public transport plan for 2015-18 was received and adopted by council.
I took the opportunity to reinforce the communities concerns that the regional plan is not used to drive (forgive the pun) further road widening projects (Wensley Road comes to mind). In my opinion, any expansion of the public transport network needs to utilise existing infrastructure not place additional financial costs on the community.
For example, a loop around Richmond that uses Hill Street, Hart’s Road, and Bateup Road (which is already earmarked for widening due to the proposed supermarket development) would be more appropriate roads to use as they have the capacity to take buses.
This topic was discussed in an earlier meeting (see www.tasman.govt.nz/council/council-meetings/standing-committees-meetings/corporate-services-committee-meetings/?path=/EDMS/Public/Meetings/CorporateServicesCommittee/2015/2015-09-03).
Full council received and approved the interim policy on unmanned aircraft (also referred to as drones, model aircraft, remotely piloted aircraft systems, or UAVs). The policy should be read in conjunction with the civil aviation authority (CAA) rules (which came into force on 1 August 2015) and are located at www.caa.govt.nz/rpas/.
The council policy document is is located at www.tasman.govt.nz/policy/policies/flying-drones-and-other-unmanned-aircraft-over-council-land/. Essentially, the policy prohibits use of unmanned aircraft within 4 km of identified aerodromes (controlled airspace), unless permission is granted by the council.
In contrast, council has provided general consent to use unmanned aircraft on all other council land, unless prohibited. Prohibited land areas include: council offices, libraries, forestry plantations, Mapua commercial precinct and wharf area, various public and memorial gardens (such as, Washbourn, Pethybridge, etc), cemeteries, Motueka sandspit, leased land to other parties (such as, bowling greens, tennis courts, etc). If on doubt contact the council.
This policy does not cover privately owned land. However, the CAA requires unmanned aircraft operators to obtain permission from a private landowner or occupier before flying over private land.
Nelson regional sewerage business unit
Council agreed to renew the Nelson regional sewerage business unit (NSRBU) memorandum of understanding and reappoint the joint committee that administers the NSRBU.
This item came before full council because both councils failed to enter into a renewed memorandum of understanding before August 2015, resulting in the deemed discharging of NRSBU joint committee. The council’s resolutions effectively corrected this administrative oversight.
Economic development funding
Council received and approved the EDA funding agreement with Nelson council. The agreement looks to fund destination tourism and economic development initiatives for the Tasman region at a total cost of $400,000 per annum. These funds come from general rates. Nelson council will use the EDA and NTT (or other appropriate vehicle) to provide these services (and outcomes).
I note that the Nelson council has begun a review of both organisations and is not proposing to merge both entities (see www.stuff.co.nz/nelson-mail/news/71888656/Nelson-economic-development-and-tourism-merger-could-save-100-000-a-year). I certainly support a merger as I have stated in earlier posts (see my discussion about tourism at www.greeningtasman.wordpress.com/2013/12/18/full-council-meeting-5-december/).
The council also established a liason group (comprising the mayor, Cr King, Bryant and Edgar) to improve accountability arrangements for service delivery for the Tasman district. In my opinion, this is an important element of the new process. Unfortunately the council in the past has not provided clear targets or outcomes for the Tasman district and therefore has struggled to receive anything meaningful in terms of measuring its return on investment.
While attempts had been made to target the cost of destination tourism to the commercial community (being those who directly benefit), rather than general ratepayers, the tools available to council were rather blunt (ie rating commercial land), and in the end the council opted in the interim to continue to use the general rating system.
Highlights of the CEO’s report include:
- strategy and planning. Council’s LTP consultative document was judged to one of the top 8 documents in the country. Council staff are reviewing the winning entry (and the other 6 documents) to make improvements for future consultation documents. Planning for the next financial year (including how we will consult with the public) has begun. A workshop was held on 3 September that discussed several issues including enabling the finance team to focus on forecasting (for the future), rather than just reporting on the past.
- annual report. The annual audit process went more smoothly this year, with the annual report expected to be adopted at the next full council meeting on 24 September 2015. Appointment of an independent member to the audit subcommittee was addressed in a confidential session with the appointment being made by majority vote. The person appointed was Graham Naylor.
- rules reduction taskforce. The government task force concluded that there were few loopy laws with many grievances stemming from service delivery and process problems. My experience has been that the interpretation of legislative rules by central government agencies is also an area of concern, especially in relation to health and safety standards (and there over zealous application).
- people. Council are currently seeking 3 staff replacements. Collective employment agreement bargaining concluded with the union in August. This resulted in a wage increase of 1.2% for most staff – which was “just” within budget. A high level review of councils existing health and safety systems and processes has begun, with a view to implementing an improvement plan. Under the new Health and Safety Act councillors and officers have a duty of due diligence (ie taking reasonable steps to ensure compliance), but cannot be prosecuted for non-compliance.
Agenda and minutes
The agenda, attachments, and minutes are located at http://www.tasman.govt.nz/council/council-meetings/standing-committees-meetings/full-council-meetings/?path=/EDMS/Public/Meetings/FullCouncil/2015/2015-09-10.
The full council met on 19 February 2015. This meeting was not part of the normal cycle of full council meetings as it was dedicated to the long term plan (LTP) for 2015-25 and associated consultation document. Cr Mirfin submitted his apologies, otherwise all councillors were present.
The agenda considered the following items: (1) CEO briefing, (2) Waimea community dam, (3) rates remissions policy review, (4) commercial subcommittee terms of reference, (5) maori consultation processes, (6) other supporting documents for the LTP.
This meeting was then followed by a workshop on the content and layout of the consultation document.
In relation to the full council meeting the main areas of interest for me were the first three items and I intend to concentrate on these items.
The maori consultation process was confirmed, as was the publication of supporting documents for the LTP. Although I continue to have issues with a number of spending proposals in these documents (eg, William Street traffic lights proposal costing $1 million, and the timing of storm water work in the Richmond South area – more urgency is required).
Council were given a brief update on the following items:
- Finance: For the 6 month period, ended 31 December 2014, council produced an accounting adjusted surplus of $2.6 million (after adjusting for capital income, vested assets, development contributions and interest rate swap revaluations) against budget. Interestingly, revaluation of interest rate swaps (which total $147.78 million) provided an accounting loss of $1.8 million. By way of background, interest rate swaps are a hedge against higher interest rates (a bit like fixing your mortgage). This month our swap rate was higher than the market. Which is surprising given our average interest rate for swaps is 5.288%. So, if we had sold our interest rate swaps back to the bank at the current market rate this month, we would have made a loss. Conversely, if our swap rate is lower than the market then we would make a theoretical gain, although we would have to refinance our debt at higher rate. This fluctuation does not cost council any cash, as we are not selling them (although it might be a good time to buy more swaps, if we were in the market) – rather its done for accounting purposes, which we are required to report on. It’s likely that as current interest rates hold up (above our swap rate) council will continue to build up an accounting loss, until such time as the market interest rate trends back up.
- Jackett Island: the claim for future costs has been settled by agreement ending the environment court proceedings – the insurers are managing any civil claim.
- Building control: last year the IANZ accreditation audit identified an issue with TDC’s tracking system for responding to building consents approaching the 20 day limit. In the last month, no building consent application exceeded the 20 day limit, the backlog had been reduced, and compliance was now over 90%.
- Restructure: A new building control manager (tier three) position had been created which has taken over management of the building compliance function and will operate within the regulatory section of TDC.
- Port Tarakohe: The mussel industry has made a pricing compliant to the commerce commission alleging TDC is making super profits from its new commercial charges regime. In my opinion, the new weigh bridge and more timely and accurate billing is clearly having an impact on some operations bottom line.
- Best island access: Several meetings have been held with affected residents on a proposal for council to acquire land for a public road in order to address access issues for those residents.
- Nelson tourism and economic development agency: Meetings have been held to discuss work plans for both organisations. In my opinion, strategic activities (including more actively supporting the international education sector) and measurable performance outcomes need to be agreed.
The council wage bill
Council staff were also asked to provide information on council’s wage budget (currently round 18% of total expenditure) and how it compares to other authorities. Cr Inglis, Higgins, and myself have been pursuing this issue for sometime.
While there are few unitary councils to make comparisons with, and unitary council functions are broader than district or regional councils, the councils wage bill is still a percentage (or ratio) of its overall cost of performing its functions. If a council has more functions it will have more income and more expenditure, but wage expenditure should still be comparable.
In my opinion, benchmarking the councils operational activities and costs is important. Given unitary councils comprise both district and regional council functions, some detailed analysis separating out those separate functions, could be undertaken with a little effort (with shared services apportioned), to provide direct comparison with district or regional councils.
I understand the local government association (LGA), have on its agenda, the provision of benchmarking tools for council governance. If the government want to see local government costs come down, I would have thought they would have been a keen supporter (and potential funder) of such tools.
Note! As pointed out by one reader, Local authorities must disclose their performance in relation to identified statutory benchmarks (see section 9 of the Local Government (Financial Reporting and Prudence) Regulations 2014). I agree. However, these statutory benchmarks are very different to the type of benchmarking I am suggesting. I am talking about benchmarking “between” councils on information not currently required by statute to be benchmarked. The statutory benchmarks listed in section 10 of the Local Government (Financial Reporting and Prudence) Regulations 2014 are: rates affordability (reg 17), debt affordability (reg 18), balanced budget (reg 19), essential services (reg 20), debt servicing (reg 21), debt control (reg 22), and operations control (reg 23). These benchmarks are generally a high level comparison against quantified limits set by council or statute. For example, comparing the council’s planned rates increase with a quantified limit on rates increases contained in the council’s financial strategy.
I also believe its about time council was subject to an independent organisational review. As a governance body, council should regularly review if the council is operating efficiently. An independent review will either confirm the organisation is right sized and operating efficiently, or make suggestions for improvements.
Either way ratepayers would have greater confidence in the organisation of council and that their money is being spent wisely. Unfortunately, there appears to very little support around the council table (including the mayor) for such a review. Hopefully a wage comparison, might push them towards a much needed review.
Waimea community dam
There were two issues to be considered: (1) a revised structure of the arrangement, and (2) funding of a new private entity.
The suggested re-structure was not a surprise as we had been briefed at an earlier workshop. These days I tend to find the workshops more informative (and useful) than the actual committee meetings (that formally present the staff paper and recommendations).
This is because, much of the debate and councillors positions on the issue, have been worked through at the workshop. This means much of the debate around the table is often making a last argument for not supporting (or supporting) the staff recommendation.
A revised structure
In essence, the proposed arrangements confirmed at the earlier council meeting of 9 December 2014 has changed. At the December meeting it was proposed (and supported by the majority of council) that a CCO would be formed and it would co-ordinate external funding (amongst other tasks). That structure is outlined below.
Ironically, my opposition to forming a CCO and allowing the irrigators to form their own investment holding company (Waimea Community Dam Ltd, or “WCDL”) has now been taken up by the irrigators. They now proposed a revised structure whereby WCDL secures funding from the Crown and irrigators. This new structure is illustrated below.
This new structure reflects the fact that irrigators will now be the major financial contributors to the dam, as they look to secure funding from the Crown and irrigators.
By way of background, the council’s contribution to a dam is limited to $25 million – made up of urban water ($8 million) and environmental ($14 million), with the remaining $3 million for administration costs. This would suggest that WCDL has to secure the remainder ($50 million) from irrigators and the Crown.
I agree with this structure. Its very similar to what I suggested in my dissenting opinion in December. However, I maintain that a CCO does not yet need to be established, until a decision on whether we proceed with a dam (or not), is decided. If a dam is agreed, then the reasons for forming a CCO need to be considered at that time.
In my opinion, the cost of establishing and maintaining a CCO does not warrant its formation at this time. During the consultation phase on governance formation of a CCO was estimated to cost about $100,000 (plus ongoing costs, like directors fees). Establishing a company also invites tax, accounting, and company compliance costs that a “council” does not need to bother itself with. Council could quite easily enter into contractual negotiations with WCDL directly for the supply of water augmentation services. As it has done with NCC over the delivery of tourism services.
A reason to form a CCO is the benefit of skills and knowledge that directors could provide. However, in this instance, the CCO would not be managing the dam, unlike governance struture 1. Rather, it is a holding company for council investment. Furthermore, management and technical skills would be provided by TDC under contract. So there do not appear to be any benefits at this time in forming a CCO?
Given no government funding for urban or environmental contributions has been forthcoming, there seems little reason to form a CCO at this time. It might be that such funding is not contingent on a CCO being formed? Why jump the gun?
To date, the mayor has made no noise about securing government funding for the environmental contribution, or seeking government to underwrite any cost blow outs for the council’s contribution.
Having looked at a guide on when councils should form a CCO (see http://wellington.govt.nz/~/media/your-council/council-controlled-organisations/files/whatworks.pdf), I could find no compelling case for forming a CCO.
Given assurances during the consultation phase that cost blow outs were unlikely, I would have thought it would have been easy for the government to underwrite any cost blow outs above the $8 million urban water supply contribution. And given the broad public benefit of protecting the environment, the government should have come to the party on the environmental cost. Perhaps its time to write to Nick myself?
The other issue before council was the provision of “ongoing funding” for WCDL to engage with irrigators and the Crown. The source of this funding was proposed to come from the Waimea Water Augmentation Project surcharge which generates about $81,000 per year. This amount would be given to WCDL in the 2015-16 year.
I proposed loaning these funds (as an amendment to the resolution), rather than just handing them over to WCDL. Cr Canton seconded my motion, but no other councillors supported this change. In my mind, this was a private investment holding vehicle, not a council owned or controlled entity, and council had a duty to protect public funds.
Giving the money as a loan would provide security as a creditor should WCDL prove unsuccessful. Giving WCDL the money, provide no security at all. Further, when questioned, the CEO could see no reason why the funds could not be provided as a loan. Either way, WCDL would obtain funding. Although some councillors raised there own reasons for why it should not be a loaned during the debate.
Rates remissions policy review
At present, the council has a policy that remits rates on properties that have been subject to re-zoning. The policy provides the council a discretion in terms of how long the remission period will last.
To provide certainty (and transparent fairness) to the process it was raised during a workshop whether council should prescribe the length of the remission period. At that workshop it was suggested that a 10 year period be provided, with the last 3 years stepping down the remission towards the payment of the full rates bill. At that meeting other lengths of time were discussed, including 6 and 4 years. Some on council felt there should be no grace period, effectively rescinding the remission policy.
In my mind, a reasonable period of time should be provided. Through no fault of their own, but rather due to council’s actions of rezoning, they are placed in the very awkward financial position they find themselves in. Providing a reasonable period of time enables people to leave their land with dignity and without being pressured to sell for a low price. Alternatively, ratepayers should be given the opportunity to re-engineer their incomes so they can afford to stay or redevelop the land themselves. In my opinion, to do otherwise, only benefits the next purchaser.
The fundamental issue for me, is that council should not be in the business of forcing people off their land and out of their homes. This principle has strong support in the community – as evidenced by the submissions made on the governance and funding options for the proposed Waimea community dam.
This principle also had some support around the council table. Although there are a few councillors who adopt a more extreme utilitarian approach to the issue. That approach reared its head again during this debate.
Essentially the question before council was whether there should be a sunset clause added to the remission of rates on land that has increased in value due to re-zoning.
In such cases, re-zoning can exponentially increase the value of a property based on its new potential value. The Headingly Lane incident was apparently the driver for this remission policy. The increase in rates can be unsustainable for the property owner, and often they are forced to dispose of the land to a property developer or someone who can obtain more income from the land to afford the new rates bill.
Against this, is the need to ensure land is available for development. A key part of the housing shortage (and high values) is the supply of land. Although, whether this is a driver in the Tasman region, is a moot point.
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.
Cr Ensor questioned why I would support such a long time given the cost to council and given my drive to reduce costs for council. I explained, that my support of a longer remission period (the 6+4 year period) reflected the tension between saving costs and ensuring people were not force out of their homes. I also did not perceive there was any “real” cost to council. The increase in value did not affect the councils costs. In fact, remitting the rate just meant that council did not get an increase in income. Councils costs remained unchanged, whether the land increased in value or not.
On losing this amendment, I made it clear I could not support any shorter period as I considered it unfair and mean spirited, and would prefer council discretion (the current policy) to anything else.
Especially when placed in the context of the Tapu bay issue, where some councillors supported giving a life interest in a holiday bach (or crib if you are from the deep south) to the owner of the bach (that was not that person’s home), rather than enforce the councils policy of removing private bachs from public land, and yet were willing to force people out of their homes within a much shorter period.
On that basis I informed council I would be voting against both shorter remission periods.
Other councillors realising that a no vote on a 4+2 remission period, might force an even shorter period, asked to defer this item to the next full council meeting.
The full council meeting on 5 March will be deciding on the final state of this policy.
Agenda and minutes
The agenda and minutes for this meeting are located at http://www.tasman.govt.nz/council/council-meetings/standing-committees-meetings/full-council-meetings/?path=/EDMS/Public/Meetings/FullCouncil/2015/2015-02-19.