Draft Annual Plan 2002/2003

Media Release
Sunday, March 31, 2002

To be adopted by the Central Otago District Council at its meeting of Wednesday 13th March 2002.

Comment by Mayor Malcolm Macpherson

The publication of our draft annual plan is one of the major milestones of the council's year.

The draft plan sets out our goals for next year, and also looks forward for the next ten years, signalling our long-term intentions.

The plan is the result of a lot of work by many people. Community boards and council committees have spent many hours debating their spending intentions for the future, and the results represent their best efforts to balance what must be done, with what communities tell them they would like us to do, at a cost that the community can afford.

In a memo to all elected members earlier this year, I emphasised that getting that balance right is the most difficult job elected members have to do. I asked them think hard about our costs, and the impact that rates have on those who struggle to make ends meet.

I also emphasised that their main duty is to protect the community's assets. Running down hard-won infrastructure and compromising our ability to function properly are not an option. Deferring necessary work simply stores up problems for the future - when they cost more to fix.

The boards and committees have done a careful, conservative and thorough job. We have had to deal with a number of cost increases and areas of new spending that are beyond our control - higher insurance costs, for example, will add about1% to the total rates bill next year. We have also responded to calls from the community - to begin some serious work on water quality, for example - that are quite expensive to provide. There is much more detail, and a summary overview, in the published draft plan.

The plan shows our rate take increasing by about 8%, which is 4% higher than the rise we predicted for this year. We are still showing another increase next year, then a levelling-off for several years before rates decline after ten years to about where they are today. If this year's increase is confirmed at the end of the consultation process, it will make those long-term goals more difficult to achieve.

The plan adopted today is very much a first draft. It is now open for submissions. Your input is welcome.

Am I happy about this outcome?
No. It's going to make it very hard to meet our long-term projection of rates being no higher (after inflation adjustment) in ten years than they are today.

Can we do anything about the draft plan's rise in rates?
Not without failing to deliver what people tell us they want - good roads and clean water, among other things. And not without putting or key assets at risk. We do welcome submissions from the community, however, and encourage people to look carefully at our plans, and make suggestions about alternatives.

What about next year?
This year's result is going to focus us on the need to look long and hard at our business over the next few months. We need a much better idea of the community's priorities, and the best way to discover those is through the sort of community visioning exercise that Wanaka and Queenstown are embarking on. We will do the same.

What about the 'no rates rises next year' promise?
My comments about rising rates referred to last year's plan, which showed a small increase for this year (about 4%) and next year, then a decline over ten years to about where we are today (again, adjusted for inflation). That seems to me to be a goal well worth working towards, which is why I high-lighted it during the election campaign.

Was it silly to focus on holding rates? I don't think so - there's no greater or more important priority for a small council like ours. Pretending that increasing costs are just a fact of life is a sure way to see them continuously increase, and that's a risk to our survival as self-managing communities. But we all know it's not easy!

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