Tight financial times have led to Environment Waikato deferring a decision on grants for community and school environmental initiatives for at least another three months. In addition, the council said it would not accept any new Environmental Initiatives Fund (EIF) or Enviroschools applications until the start of the new financial year in July.
The actions will save approximately $160,000 this financial year that would otherwise have been available for community and school environmental projects.
At last week’s monthly meeting, the regional council considered the fate of seven applications to the EIF and four applications for school grants. The applications had been deferred in November, following concerns about the council’s ability to fund the initiatives in light of lower than budget returns from the investment fund.
Councillors who spoke said they understood the need for financial restraint but were reluctant to lose the added value offered by the community grants. Community partnerships multiply the value of every dollar given in grants, greatly enhancing the ratepayer investment in our region.
In addition, councillors acknowledged the work put into making grant applications and considered it important that each application receive careful consideration.
After discussion, the council referred the EIF and school applications back to the environment committee to be prioritised for carrying forward to the new financial year. The council then decided to not accept any more applications this financial year.
Funding for community environmental projects is also proposed to be reduced by approximately a third next year under the draft 2009-19 Long Term Council Community Plan (LTCCP).
The Environmental Initiatives Fund is currently funded at $343,000, from the council’s investment fund and from general rates. The proposed funding for next year would be $240,000, all from the natural heritage rate that is charged to every household.
In another change, the current budget of $212,000 to help land owners doing biodiversity restoration on private land would be scrapped. However, land owners and groups could compete for support through the Environmental Initiatives Fund.
At the moment every household in the region pays a natural heritage rate of $5.60 a year. All of this money goes towards the permanent protection of significant places in the region.
Under a new proposal in the draft LTCCP, from July 2009 the natural heritage rate will also pay for grants to community groups and schools for environmental initiatives. This is because the council’s investment fund is not expected to generate enough income to pay for the grants, as has happened in the past. As a result, funding for natural heritage work would decline from $931,000 to $685,000.
In addition, from July 2009 the council is proposing to charge each household an additional $1.80 a year to fund the maintenance of the predator-proof fence and pest free status of Maungatautari Ecological Island in conjunction with Waipa District Council.
This would bring the total natural heritage rate charged per household to $7.40 a year.
These proposals are included in the “Natural Heritage” section of the proposed 2009-19 Long Term Council Community Plan (LTCCP) out for consultation now. Waikato ratepayers and residents are encouraged to comment on the proposals.