Tagged: Rates

Extra Full council meeting (17 December)

An extraordinary full council meeting was held on 17 December 2015. The last meeting of the year. Apologies were received from Cr King and Cr Bouillir, with Cr Mirfin and Cr Sangster arriving late.

The meeting was called to discuss one item: engagement and consultation on the 2016-17 Annual Plan. A late confidential item reviewing the council’s banking facilities was also discussed.

Annual Plan 2016-17

Council resolved not to release an Annual Plan consultation document for 2016-17, but instead prepare a communication process for public engagement. This was because council agreed that there were no material changes from the fiscal plan for 2016-17 as contained in Long Term Plan (LTP).

Effectively, the cost of consultation (roughly $100,000) was not justified, given the small overall net change in fiscal outlook. Basically, council were holding the line on plans contained in the LTP. A first for this council for sometime!

Key changes from the LTP for the 2016-17 period are:

  • capital expenditure: proposed to be $32.55 million in 2016-17, compared to the LTP forecast of $32.524 (a $250,000 increase),
  • debt: proposed net debt is proposed to be $166 million, compared to the LTP forecast of $178 million (a $12 million reduction),
  • operating expenditure: proposed to be $105.9 million, compared to the LTP forecast of $106.3m (a $400,000 reduction),
  • rates: proposed to be a 1% increase, compared to LTP forecast of 2.96% (a reduced increase),

Service levels remain unchanged from those forecast in the LTP. Although, I hope that in the next LTP council will take a harder look at some services (for example, publications, communications, education services). These are ll nice to have services for an affluent council. But in the short term, need to be shelved, until such time as we can afford them.

To ensure ratepayers were kept informed of 2016-17 activities, council released a brief document outlining key activities (see http://www.tasman.govt.nz/policy/plans/annual-plans/annual-plan-2016-2017/).

Agenda and minutes

The agenda and minutes are located at http://www.tasman.govt.nz/council/council-meetings/standing-committees-meetings/full-council-meetings/?path=/EDMS/Public/Meetings/FullCouncil/2015/2015-12-17.

 

 

 

 

Audit subcommittee meeting (16 September)

The audit sub-committee meeting was held on 16 September 2015. All subcommittee members (Crs Higgins, King, Sangster, Inglis, and myself) were present, including the newly appointed independent advisory member, Graham Naylor.

The agenda included two items: (1) internal audit programme update, and (2) draft annual report. As might be expected with two agenda items the meeting was relatively brief.

At the conclusion of the meeting we took the opportunity to speak with the auditor, without the presence of staff. We had done this with the 2014 annual audit report and it had proved a good exercise. Generally, the audit process had substantially improved on the previous year. This was put down to better staff preparation and planning. Although, I suspect it had to also do with increasing the resourcing for the finance team.

Internal audit programme

This item was an update (information only) report. Crowe Horwath have been engaged to provide internal audit services. This includes undertaking a review of councils processes and procedures for leasing and licensing arrangements. The review will also examine contract terms and conditions, pricing, billing, and collection). A list of relevant issues that will be examined are outlined on page 21 of the agenda.

Mr Naylor suggested this amount of detail was not necessary to present to the audit subcommittee. I disagree. I thought it was very useful for governance (especially for inexperienced members) to know what was being addressed in the review (and what was not). Knowing this provided me confidence that the review would be specifically examining some issues that had arisen in the past. For example (question 3.13), does the lease agreement include council approval clauses for subletting arrangements? The overall budget for this activity will be around $10,000. In addition, Crowe Horwath will provide some staff training.

Annual report

The draft annual report for the financial year ended 30 June 2015 was presented to the subcommittee for comment, before its presentation to council. This is the financial report that outlines the performance of council for the 2014-15 year and is reviewed by the auditor general (which is a legislative requirement).

Feedback from the auditor has been very positive and the council has received another unmodified audit report. In my opinion, both the financials and the audit process have seen a marked improvement on the previous year.

For an explanation of what is an “unmodified audit report” as well as a summary of last years audit report, see my earlier post at www.greeningtasman.wordpress.com/2015/03/28/audit-sub-committee-meeting-19-march/.

Generally, there were few comments from the subcommittee – with most being minor typographical changes. A confidential discussion (without staff being present) was held with the auditor after the meeting closed. The discussion was good and the confirmed that the financial team are doing a good job with the audit visit being smoother than earlier years. No doubt this is a reflection of better resourcing of the finance team (both inn terms of people and technology).

In summary, non-financial performance for the 2014-15 year was good. Overall, 82% of non financial measured targets were achieved and 12% not achieved. Council also ended the 2014-15 financial stronger than previous years.

Debt levels were lower than budgeted for year end. Rather than the projected $172 million, debt came in at $145 million. Total rates income (general rates and targeted rates) was $65.4 million. Other income (development contributions, subsidies and grants, fees and charges, other revenue) totaled $57.4 million. General rates increased $310,000 as a direct result of growth (ie, more ratepayers). Assets under council control totaled $1.26 billion. The accounting position records a $21.1 million surplus, compared to a budgeted surplus of $9.1 million. Effectively, an improved performance (positive variance) of $12 million above budget (the forecasted outcome).

In my opinion, council need to use any surplus to further reduce existing debt levels (and thus further reduce interest repayments), address the communities desire to further reduce storm water risks that have still not been addressed in residential Richmond, and provide for future potential natural disasters.

The annual report will now be presented to full council for approval.

Agenda and minutes

The agenda and minutes are located at www.tasman.govt.nz/council/council-meetings/subcommittee-meetings/audit-subcommittee-meetings/?path=/EDMS/Public/Meetings/AuditSubcommittee/2015/2015-09-16.

 

 

Consultation document

LTP-Cover

 

The consultation document (formerly known as the “Long Term Plan” or LTP) outlines where council intends to spend your money over the next 10 years (from 2015 to 2025).

The deadline for submissions is 20 April 2015.

The relevant documents and an online submission form are located from http://www.tasman.govt.nz/policy/public-consultation/2015-2025-long-term-plan/.

The 10 year plan includes some very important decisions, including whether the Waimea Community Dam should proceed, and equally importantly, how much of your money council should contribute to that project.

Overall, this is a good start for council, which has indicated a greater willingness to reduce expenditure and debt – which invariably translates to keeping rates increase down. However, this should only be the start of the journey.

In my opinion, there is still room to make further improvements on reducing expenditure and reducing the need to increase revenue (and increasing rates).

This might mean that some services would be reduced or cease. It might mean that some services are delivered through shared service arrangements with the private sector or other councils. It might also mean that their are some asset sales or fundamental questions are asked about whether council should be involved in commercial activities, and instead concentrate on its regulatory functions to achieve positive community outcomes.

Debt

Council debt is very much like shifting a container ship. The larger it is, the longer it takes to turn it around.

ContainerShip

The good news is our projected debt is planned to be reduced. But it will take time and requires discipline with future spending decisions. Choices will need to be made, not only within service areas, but between different services.

It’s a question of priorities.

So what will our debt and rates look like over the next 10 years. And what did it look like before 2013.

The debt position for the next 10 years has substantially improved. By 2025, projected debt will be around $109 million, with it peaking in 2018 to $193 million, if $25 million is invested in the Dam. How this is achieved is outlined on page 11 of the consultative document.

Essentially, its a $143.39 million reduction in expenditure over the 10 year period. However, a number of important infrastructural projects will still proceed. These are outlined on page 34 of the consultative document and include storm water initiatives (Borck creek and Richmond CBD improvements), water storage (the Dam), water supply initiatives to support growth, the Motueka library upgrade, and the second instalment of the Golden Bay recreational facility.

This is a marked improvement on where we have come from. From 2006, there was been a clear trend of escalating debt and expenditure. With debt beginning to increase from 2003.

DebtProjection2

So how did council accumulate this debt? The simple answer is that council spent more than it earned (as illustrated below). In my opinion it often borrowed money in anticipation of earning it, and often those projections were unrealistic or optimistic. In my opinion, council also appeared to over capitalise in anticipation of perceived problems. For example, widening roads. Or spent money on projects that were nice to haves – often within the community development budget. Again it is noticeable that spending began to markedly increase around 2003 and gained momentum after 2006.

DebtProjection4

Rates

The good news is rates increases will now be capped to no more than 3% (plus an allowance for growth). Growth is projected to be between 1.18% to 2.55%. This is a substantial improvement on the past (as illustrated below). However, I believe there is still room for improvement, but this will have to come from reducing or ceasing some activities that the council has performed in the past.

RatesOverview

Revenue

Council’s revenue is driven from three pools of income: (1) general rates, (2) targeted rates, and (3) other charges and revenue sources (eg, consent charges, forestry, and other commercial activities), as illustrated below.

OperatingRevenue

For more detail about the council’s finances read the Draft Finance Strategy report, located in the supporting information table (see http://www.tasman.govt.nz/policy/public-consultation/2015-2025-long-term-plan/supporting-information/).

The Dam decision

This is the big issue for this consultation. Do we proceed with a Dam, how much money should we be contributing, and how big should the dam be?

The majority (not all) of council has suggested a ratepayer contribution of $25 million. This comprises around $9 million to secure urban water supply for the the long term future, and a further $13 million for the environmental benefits of an improved river flow. The remaining amount (roughly $3 million) funds administration and planning.

Any plan B initiatives for urban water needs are likely to cost no more than the urban contribution for the Dam. However, it needs to be remembered that the urban water supply is statutorily protected – such that if there are severe water restrictions, maintaining water supply for people is a priority. Although this would come at a cost to those businesses dependent on water.

The environmental contribution ensures the river flow is maintained to around 1100 litres per second. It might be that a lower flow rate is acceptable. Alternatively you might question pif you are getting your money’s worth from any benefits from providing enough water to fill the river for trout or swimming. It might be that you are happy that there is enough water in the gravels, rather on top of the gravels. What do you think?

How much of the environmental flow is funded, and whether it is funded on a cascading tiered approach, or a flat levy, has yet to be decided. The contributor/exacerbator argument, that many submitters raised, has been accepted in principle. However, council continues to suggest that all ratepayers might be called upon to provide a contribution. What do you think?

To date ,the government has not made any noise on underwriting any cost blow outs for urban water users or assisting in the funding of the environmental flows. However, the government has made noise about providing financial assistance for irrigators. At the same time, Nelson council is consulting (in its consultation document) on any contribution to the Dam.

All the relevant Dam information is still located on the dedicated webpage (see http://www.waimeacommunitydam.co.nz) as well as the in the consultation documents.

Storm water

In a recent survey, storm water risk was, by far, the number one concern for Richmond residents. The question is, has the council done enough?

At present, the council has committed to ensuring the Richmond business centre receives immediate attention.

Council has not reduced the storm water budget from earlier years, whereas it has reduced expenditure in other areas. However, some may question if enough was done in the past.

Should council re-prioritise funding priorities so that known flood risks are mitigated before another heavy down poor happens. For example, shift funds from the transport budget (for new traffic lights on Salisbury Road), to fixing the 4 risk hotspots in Richmond. Or are residents happy to wait for work to be done over a longer period of time.

The edges of Richmond (in particular, Hart’s Road, Bateup Road, Wensely Road, the cemetery reservoir, and Selbourne Avenue), have not received any attention in the short term. Should they?

I mention the cemetery reservoir, because it nearly breached in the last big rainfall, had it not been for a resident clearing the overflow grill in the very early hours of the morning (we’re talking 1-2am). Given the new Olive Estate development has been given consent to discharge storm water water down its road and towards the cemetery, it very likely the cemetery reservoir will have even more water to hold, and is therefore more likely to breach. Some may question the council’s use of a cemetery as a flood plain.

Olive Estate has also been given consent to discharge 600 litres per second of water into Harts Creek (along Fairise Drive in Richmond South). With the reservoir above Fairise drive already expanded to hold storm water from the new Hill Street South development, its likely more water will be entering Harts creek.

In my opinion, council needs to urgently address improvements to Harts creek. This might only be digging it out deeper to allow it to hold more water, and replacing the narrowed pipe between Harts creek culvert and Bateup Road culvert. If this is not done, then I envisage even more water will spilling out of Harts creek, and making its way down Bateup Road in an uncontrolled fashion. Which is exactly what happened in the 2011 floods.

Unfortunately, I have got little support from the other Richmond councillors to invest money in fixing well known hotspots. In my opinion, council should be protecting homes from flooding, before spending money on other projects (like new traffic lights on Salisbury Road or road widening in Lower Queen Street). Its about priorities.

Council is also addressing Borcks creek which much of the Richmond storm water systems were designed to connect into. In fact, Richmond South was at one point in time, prevented from further residential development until Borck’s creek connection work was complete. How this condition was ever removed from the District Plan is beyond me, especially when the revised plan sought to intensify development in the Richmond South area.

For more detail around what is (or is not planned) see the document entitled “Stormwater Activity Management Plan” located at http://www.tasman.govt.nz/policy/public-consultation/2015-2025-long-term-plan/supporting-information/#amps.

Water (supply and quality)

The council has already undertaken to improve water quality in Richmond. In my opinion, infrastructural investment which was well overdue, and should have been done sometime ago before spending money on community development initiatives (like recreation centres). Its about priorities! Fortunately this has now been done, with the new water treatment station coming online this year.

At present council is trying to supply water more water to the Richmond South development area (south of Hart’s Road). To do this council is shifting water around during low consumption periods (mainly over night). Should council be investing in better water supply infrastructure, rather than putting together infrastructure in an ad hoc fashion?

Water charges and expenditure

Water charges are increasing to service expenditure.

Operating expenditure increases from $11.2 to $16.1 million over the 10 year period. This is due to inflation, increased loan servicing costs and network growth.

WaterExpend

To address increasing expenditure, the daily charge is proposed to rise from $0.82 to $1.25 over the 10 year period. The volume per cube is proposed to rise from $2.09 to $3.15 over the 10 year period.

WaterCharges

This roughly translates into the following revenue forecast.

WaterRevenue

Capital expenditure fluctuates over the 10 year period. The notable peak in year 2017-18, in addition to the dam, is due to the Wakefield Treatment Plant ($4,000,000) project.

WaterCosts

For more detail around what is (or is not planned) see the document entitled “Water Supply Activity Management Plan” located at http://www.tasman.govt.nz/policy/public-consultation/2015-2025-long-term-plan/supporting-information/#amps.

Roads

The roading budget has been reduced. This has been achieved by sweating the assets more than in the past. Effectively, roading assets were being replaced (maintained) at very high levels, often being replaced in anticipation of deterioration based on industry best practice, rather than evaluating if the road actually needed to be replaced.

Service levels

In my opinion, the council has a very high level of service in roading compared to the past. You only have to look around to see a high level of capital investment. For example: a pedestrian island on Hill Street with Steel protection barriers, that only has room for one person; traffic lights on Salisbury road when a cheaper round-about would have done the trick; roads being unnecessarily widened in anticipation of increasing use, rather than responding to increasing use; sealing roads that perhaps should not have been sealed, and then having to maintain them.

The roading work that is projected to be done is outlined in the councils activity management plans. These can be viewed in the document entitled “Transportation Activity Management Plan” located at http://www.tasman.govt.nz/policy/public-consultation/2015-2025-long-term-plan/supporting-information/#amps.

If you think some projects are unnecessary – then let council know in your submission.

More traffic lights?

In my opinion, the roading budget needs to be reduced further. For example, the long term plan is proposing two more sets of traffic lights on Salisbury Road. One at the T-junction of William Street, and another replacing the old round-about at the Queen Street\Salisbury Road intersection.

At $1 million a pop, this type of proposed expenditure is unnecessary. Its complete over-kill. My own assessment of the William Street intersection shows that there is only a 20 min period where the road becomes congested and this is primarily to do with the location of the pedestrian crossing next to the intermediate school and the prior traffic lights which send through large blocks of traffic – long enough to block William Street when people are crossing.

Replacing the old around-about, which has probably been the best roading investment council made, with more traffic lights, is in my opinion just bonkers. I’ve continually advised staff that traffic lights are not wanted by the community (in fact people go out of their way to avoid them). In the UK they are ripping out traffic lights and replacing them with round-abouts. At very busy intersections. See my earlier post on the case against traffic lights (https://greeningtasman.wordpress.com/2013/11/04/the-case-against-traffic-lights-removing-the-roads-to-nowhere/).

If you agree or disagree with the proposal to install more traffic lights, put in a submission.

You might also want to mention in your submission how the Gladstone Road\Queen Street traffic lights do not allow you to turn left into Queen Street when coming from Nelson (via the deviation). Apparently the left turn was removed as part of council’s ring road system.

I’m not sure how allowing the left turn again, compromises this ring road system (if at all), but its no surprise that businesses in lower Queen Street are having a hard time, when traffic can not enter lower Queen Street. Council need to allow the left turn.

Again, your submission will hopefully persuade others around the council table that residents want further change and more cost reduction. Because the more money saved, the less money council needs from you in the form of rates and charges.

Submissions

Submissions can be made in hard copy or online. The online submission form has the advantage of letting you make multiple submissions. So if you remember something after making your first submission, you can make another.

The online submission form is located at http://www.tasman.govt.nz/policy/public-consultation/make-a-submission/#form.

Corporate services committee (5 June)

 

The corporate services committee meeting was held on 5 June 2014. Apologies were received from Mayor Kempthorne, Crs Dowler, Canton, and Inglis.

The meeting agenda received several reports including: (1) the corporate mangers report, (2) financial and treasure report, and (3) the shareholders report on Port Nelson. Within these reports a number of topics were discussed which I will highlight below. These include: (1) rating review compliance, (2) audit fees, (3) the corporate teams financial performance, (4) health and safety legislation (and its impact on the volunteers), and (5) the financial position of council.

A confidential session was held to discuss the minutes of the joint shareholders committee (involving TDC and NCC who are the joint shareholders of various entities such as Port Nelson, the Airport, and NTT).

Rating review

As some will be aware, the government recently passed a regulation to validate the imposition of rates in parts of Tasman, due to a failure to follow the correct rating process (see http://www.legislation.govt.nz/act/local/2014/0001/latest/DLM4980307.html?search=qs_act%40bill%40regulation%40deemedreg_rating+validation+tasman_resel_25_h&p=1&sr=1). In order that this event does not happen again, council staff are reviewing council processes and will be taking legal advice on some matters to ensure rates are compliant with statutory requirements. Any changes will be incorporated into the Funding Impact Statement for the 2014-15 Annual Plan.

Areas being examined include: the richmond and motueka business rate, lump sum targeted rates, the definition of “separately used and inhabited part”, partitioning, the rating of dams, and disclosure of some targeted rates.

A consequence of this review might involve council considering a new rating remission policy for certain activities or assets. For example, it might be that assets, thought exempt from rates, may have to be rated by law. To maintain the same fiscal outcome, the council will then have to consider whether it wants to remit the rates for such an asset through a new remissions policy.

Audit fees

Annual audit fees are to increase by $3,800 from $115,206 (for the 2012-13 period) to $117,800 (for 2013-14 period). This comprises an inflation adjustment of $1,800 plus an additional $2,000 for the increasing scope of the audit, due to Local Government Act changes

Corporate team

The corporate team has undergone restructuring over the last year with the team being divided into three groups and the addition of some staff (which has been reported in earlier posts). In my opinion, the financial result of the restructure has had a positive impact on the financial management of council (and the team itself). For April 2014, the corporate services team reported a saving of $228,000 against forecasted budgets for this time of year from reduced operating expenditure.

Health and Safety

The Health and Safety Reform Bill is currently before select committee (see http://www.legislation.govt.nz/bill/government/2014/0192/latest/DLM5976660.html). Submissions on the Bill closed on 9 May 2014. The Bill makes a number of proposed changes to the current law, including extending the definition of workers to include volunteers. While the existing Act requires employers to take all practicable steps to ensure volunteer’s health and safety is met, an employer will not commit an offence if they fail to do so. The proposed changes will mean employers will commit and offence if they fail to do so. This change may have a significant impact on the use of volunteers. For example, volunteers will be required to undergo health and safety training that would have only been provided to employed staff. This will place additional costs on any organisation using volunteers. Local Government NZ has asked that the current law is retained and the proposed changes are not made. Watch this space for further developments.

Financial and treasury performance

As at 31 March 2014, the council’s working capital was $3.346 million (compared to the year end forecast position of $4.4 million). Capital expenditure for the year to date of $14.4 million is also under budget. However, the positive variance is just timing, with capital expenditure on the Richmond Water Treatment plant to start in May which should return the amount of capital expenditure to budgeted levels.

Total income for council is $5.056 million ahead of forecasted budget for this time of year. Expenditure is also showing a positive variance of $370,00 below forecasted budget for this time of year. The net position is an accounting surplus of $9.068 million against forecasted budget of $3.662 million for this time of year. Outstanding debts remains higher than last year as some larger invoices have been questioned. This will need to be monitored. The March 2014 statements can be found at page 28 of the agenda.

As at 30 April 2014, the council’s total debt was $148.82 million. This is close to what is expected to be our end of year debt position for the 2013-14 year. Paying a weighted average interest rate of 5.161%. In lay terms, we are paying around $8 million in interest per year. With each ratepayer holding around $4,000 in debt each. At this time, the council had $130.78 million (88% of total debt) of interest rate swaps in place. In lay terms, this locks in our interest payments for set periods. However, as swaps mature, interest rate pressures will probably see new swaps negotiated at higher interest rates. At present, 70% of council debt matures before 30 June 2015. This could provide a financial bow wave for council in the future and will need to be carefully managed. Helpful table illustrating the councils debt is found on page 34 of the agenda.

As stated above, councils year end debt position (that June 2014) is expected to be around $148 million (thats $2-3 million lower than projections made in January this year). Projected debt (see full council annual plan discussions) at the end of the 2014-15 year (thats June 2015) is expected to be around $171 million. Much of the increase in debt (about half of the $20 million) is due to earlier expenditure being recognised in the 2014-15 year, as long term capital projects come are completed. The other half is a reflection of council approving new debt funded capital expenditure programs in the forthcoming 2014-15 year. Anyone who says we do not have a debt problem (and can debt fund “nice to have” capital items, like recreation centres) are deluding themselves. Unfortunately, this will mean that council will have to be tougher this year on cutting operational expenditure to turn this increasing large debt ship around.

Interestingly, council became non-compliant with its debt maturity profile in July 2013, when two banking credit facilities fell within the 0-3 year maturity bracket. Refinancing existing bank debt (ie credit facilities) with longer maturity dates should bring the debt profile back into compliance. At present, the councils debt is financed from two sources: 70% from the LGFA fund, and 30% from private banking facilities. As part of council reducing finance costs, the council has reduced its available credit facilities by 30%. In lay terms, this is like reducing our available over-draft facilities. Yes, council pays for funds that it could draw on but has yet to do so. A reduction in available funds will mean that council will have to carefully manage borrowing and cash flows. And avoid taking on any un-budgeted debt.

Richmond water treatment plant – update

Site works for Richmond Water Treatment Plant are progressing. Pipework installation in Lower Queen Street starts the second week of June 2014 and will cause some disruption for road users. Signs have been up for two weeks to inform people of likely delays and a media release was issued. Forty community members attended a meeting with Council staff on 26 May 2014 which was also attended by the Mayor and Councillor Mirfin. The issues of concern were around flooding, stormwater, and the increased speed of traffic on Lower Queen Street.

Agenda and minutes

The agenda and minutes for this meeting are located at http://www.tasman.govt.nz/council/council-meetings/standing-committees-meetings/corporate-services-committee-meetings/?path=/EDMS/Public/Meetings/CorporateServicesCommittee/2014/2014-06-05.

 

 

 

 

 

Full Council Meeting (19 February)

Yes, another full council meeting. This one focused on the annual plan. All councillors were in attendance other than Crs Bouillir and Mirfin.

The meeting agenda comprised: (1) the mayors trip to china, and (2) the annual plan budget and projects for solid waste, storm water, wastewater, transportation, community development and facilities, tourism funding, rates remission policies, and general charges.

The Mayor’s Trip to China

Council were asked to approve financial support of approximately $8,000 for the Mayor’s travel (and associated costs) for a 10 day (10-20 April 2014) business trip to China with a delegation led by the Chief Executive of the Economic Development Agency (EDA), Bill Findlater. The $8,000 being made up of $3,500 return airfares plus $4,500 to $5,000 for accommodation and incidental costs. The aim of the trip being to strengthen business relationships and promote Tasman products to the chinese market.

According to the staff report (see agenda link below), Bill Findlater had asked the Mayor to join the delegation [page 6 at [4.6]). It was noted in this report that the role of Mayor was held in high esteem in China and the Mayor’s presence would help the delegation. It was also stated by the Mayor that he had been invited by the Chinese embassy to visit China. How that invitation came about was not fully explained. On further enquiry it materialised that the delegation only comprised two businesses (one being the Nelson Polytechnic (NMIT)) and would not be accompanied by the Nelson Mayor.

I opposed any ratepayer funding of this trip.

In my mind, regardless of the Chinese embassy’s invitation, the delegation was to small to justify the expenditure. If the business participant’s sought an advantage from the Mayor’s presence, they should have been willing to pay for that presence.  If they were not, then clearly the trip was not justified. I noted that some councillors had made similar arguments in relation to not funding Nelson-Tasman tourism (ie, that tourism businesses should fund their own promotion). Given the delegation of businesses was a far smaller group of businesses, than those that benefited from wider tourism funding, I found it surprising that those same councillors would support spending $8,000 promoting only two businesses (leaving aside the fact one of the businesses was a Nelson based business). Given other councils had found that such business trips to China require repeat visits for any degree of success, and are highly dependent on follow up activities from council staff (which would not be provided by TDC), there seemed very little prudence in funding such a trip, that was unlikely to be successful or provide immediate and direct benefits for Tasman.

Unfortunately, I was a lone voice of dissent. However, I do wish the Mayor well on his trip to China, and look forward to learning of the financial benefit delegates have obtained, that will offset Tasman ratepayer investment.

Annual Plan

Council were also asked to formally pass a number of resolutions that would enable the formal release of the draft annual plan. This is the budgeted income and expenditure of council for the 2014-15 year. What was passed by council appears in the draft annual plan that the public will be able to make submissions on. This is also an opportunity for the public to make suggestions for making further cost savings that will result in reducing rates. Equally, any suggestions for putting expenditure back into the plan, will result in rates going up.

Workshop discussions held earlier in the month had resolved much of the debate around where expenditure should be (hence the lack of discussion around many of the proposed resolutions), although there still remained a degree of disagreement on a number of spending issues. In particular, the Golden Bay recreational facility. I have discussed the merits of this facility in earlier posts, so will not re-litigate my reasons for opposing further funding of recreational facilities. Needless to say, it is a debate about priorities (infrastructure over nice to haves) and debt (keeping debt down as interest rate rises eat into rates income).

Unlike other years, the council has approached the 2014 plan on the basis of a proposed fiscal envelope (ie how much did we want to spend, and what was the level of rates increase we wanted to operate within). In my opinion a target of 2.0 to 2.5% should have been the preferred target for 2014.  However, a target of 2.0 to 2.5% is still achievable with further cuts. Some cuts are achievable in this draft budget\plan. For example, do we need the Mud&Roses publication? Do we need a Newsline of more than 2 pages long? Should the staff budget be tightened in order to drive organisational efficiencies? Are there road work projects we should not be doing?

With further reductions over the forthcoming years (and holding rates increases down below the rate of inflation) we can begin to make some headway towards rates parity with Nelson. At present our total rates bill is nearly twice that of Nelson. If you have ideas for expenditure cuts, make sure you make a submission on this draft plan. Give councillors the confidence to make further cuts.

Agenda and minutes

The agenda an minutes for this meeting can be found at http://www.tasman.govt.nz/council/council-meetings/standing-committees-meetings/full-council-meetings/?path=/EDMS/Public/Meetings/FullCouncil/2014/2014-02-19

Note! The draft annual plan has been released. For information on the plan and making a submission see http://www.tasman.govt.nz/policy/public-consultation/draft-annual-plan-2014-2015-and-draft-rates-policies-submissions/.

A summary of the draft annual plan is provided in Newsline at http://www.tasman.govt.nz/council/media-centre/news/latest-newsline/.

See also http://www.stuff.co.nz/nelson-mail/news/9828399/Tasman-rates-to-rise-up-to-3-5pc.

Our first council meeting (24 October)

Today was out first meeting as a council. And the first opportunity to meet councillors from other parts of the district.

The message from the mayor was a good one, and appeared to take on board many of the issues our community raised during the recent election campaign. In particular, keeping rates increases down and reducing debt. However, It still concerns me that the council is talking in terms of “reducing an increase in rates”, rather than a zero or CPI index increase. Early days I suppose.

Today’s first council meeting was more ceremony than substance. But there was still some opportunities to express some opinions. In this regard I was impressed by what Cr Paul Sangster had to say with regard to the election of the deputy mayor.

Cr Tim King was elected deputy mayor (uncontested) today, after Cr Judene Edgar declined to stand (after being nominated by other councillors).

Tim is an excellent deputy and councillor, who I look forward to working with, but it would have been good to have had a woman as deputy, especially given 50% of the voting public are woman, their are few woman on council, and she was the highest polling councillor in the district. I can only think that it was a missed opportunity for our council to improve community engagement and show the community that it has taken on board a desire for change. However, I’m sure there will be more opportunities to show that.

On another note, during my campaign, I came across a number of issues that I recorded on my google map. And I’d thought I’d share those observations here.

https://mapsengine.google.com/map/edit?mid=zB60KF3m5-Pk.kbXXFCJY92RI&hl=en

A good mix of skills and experience

Electing councillors can be a lottery.

So I read with interest a recent article by Keith Marshall on the very topic. Its a good read and no doubt the voice of experience. Keith being a former Nelson City Council chief executive (see link below).

Whether an incumbent councilor performed well in their last term and deserves re-election, or a new candidate has the skills and experience to add value to council performance is hard to measure. An obvious measure for new candidates are the skills and experience they can bring to the council table. Do they offer something that is either missing from council or would add to the overall mix of skills on council. Finally, would council benefit from a fresh perspective and new ideas?

Against these measures is the performance of the incumbent. Did they attend enough meetings to make a contribution. Did they speak up at council at the meetings they attended? Did they do what they said they would do? Did they vote on issues the way they said they would? Are they accessible and open to hearing from the public and speaking up for the public? Have they been there to long? Is it time for change?

Some councillors will actively step down for the benefit of a refreshed council. The risk of overstaying is that one can lose perspective of issues in terms of the wider context. Others will not, and sometimes require a gentle nudge.

I have been told working on council is very much like herding cats.

According to Keith, a good skill to have on council is the ability to persuade. “Sure, it is important to have someone taking that “no rises” stance, but surely the ultimate measure of their actual effectiveness is whether or not they can enrol and convince their colleague elected members not to put the rates up. And if they can’t effectively get the result they say they want (as is clearly demonstrated by continual rates rises over many years), then should we keep voting them in instead of trying a new, and hopefully much more successful, candidate”.

My own experience is one of law.  The aim of that game is to persuade. Further, as a former publisher of legal text books I often had to recruit and work with a diverse group of academic personalities. Persuading a group of academics to all row together on the same boat, in the same direction, is like herding cats. And I have been a very successful herder of cats (and publisher of academic publications).

See http://www.stuff.co.nz/nelson-mail/opinion/8957665/Council-voting-choices-not-clear-cut,

Standing up for you

Mark Greening LLM, BA

Mark Greening LLM, BA

Hello and welcome.

My name is Mark Greening and I am standing for the Richmond Ward on the Tasman District Council.

Please give me you vote, so I can speak up for you, and our community, on Council.

I stand for:

(1) sensible spending decisions, so our rates are not wasted,

(2) fixing the big problems first, like storm water and those traffic lights!

(3) improving our water supply, not charging more for it,

(4) good town planning for all our community, not just property developers,

(5) investing in our libraries and recreational facilities for our youth, and those not so young,

(6) supporting WiFi and getting new ITC businesses established here, and

(7) a council that listens to your concerns, and does something about it.

Let me speak up for you.

Kind regards

Mark

PS: If you would like to know more about me click the “About” button above.

Authorised by Mark Greening at 52 Chelsea Avenue, Richmond, Nelson.