Waikato Regional Council has finalised its work programme and budget for the year beginning 1 July, with an overall rates increase to existing ratepayers of 2.6 per cent.
Chairman Peter Buckley said the council’s programme of work aimed to boost economic growth while protecting people, property and the environment.
The council received 2782 submissions on the Draft Annual Plan released for public consultation in March. About 60 submitters appeared before councillors during three days of hearings last month and included individuals, community and industry groups, and councils.
More than 1400 submissions were received on the proposal to continue collecting a levy on behalf of the Animal Health Board (AHB) for control of tuberculosis (Tb)-carrying wild animals, such as possums.
Most submissions lobbied councillors to increase the rate from the $650,000 proposed in the draft annual plan.
Councillors agreed to increase the levy to the $740,000 requested by the AHB, plus $30,000 collection costs, through a targeted rate on rural ratepayers. The additional funding is conditional on it being spent on programmes of value to the regional council’s biodiversity goals and the AHB’s possum control programme.
The council also wants to explore options for the funding of AHB work in the future. To this end, the issue will be raised with other regional councils in a bid for national consistency, while the chair and chief executive will work with the AHB to find a solution to long-term funding of the AHB’s work.
People were largely in support of a proposal to develop a regional carbon strategy to enable Waikato landowners to take advantage of the emissions trading scheme.
A sum of $50,000 has been approved to complete the strategy and operational plan that will help farmers improve profitability of marginal land and have a positive impact on the regional environment. This will involve planting steep and erosion-prone land in trees or allowing it to revert naturally to native bush, and then selling the carbon credits.
In a key decision, the council has called for a report on principles and options for funding regional development and infrastructure. The development and use of such a fund would be fully consulted upon through the Long Term Plan next year.
This decision followed consideration of approximately $3.8 million worth of funding requests for three cycleway projects, Hauraki Rail Trail, Te Awa River Ride and Waikato River Trails.
Councillors acknowledged cycleways were good projects but were reluctant to commit further funding on an annual ad hoc basis. They agreed major projects, such as cycleways, would be better considered in light of a set of principles and options for funding regional infrastructure.
The high-profile Home of Cycling request for funding, although not included in the Draft Annual Plan 2011/12, accounted for 1027 submissions. On 9 June the council will consider the independent due diligence report it commissioned to review the economic impact assessment, financial projections, capital costings and the ownership and governance of the Home of Cycling proposal. If the council decides to support the velodrome project, it will undertake a special consultative process with the public over June and July.
Councillors approved $270,000 out of prior year surpluses to fund legal costs and to commence the building consent and tender process for repairing water damage to the council’s main Hamilton offices in Grey Street as a result of defective external cladding.
Councillors also supported the investigation of remediation, leaseback and development opportunities for all of the council’s Hamilton properties. A detailed report on this will be presented in August to the finance and audit committee, which will also consider funding remediation work to proceed in 2012/13.
In other decisions:
Funding of $400,000 for the Tui Mine remediation project will come from prior year surpluses.
The council’s funding contribution to the Waikato Region Civil Defence Emergency Management Group was increased from $235,000 to $298,500.
The Hamilton-Auckland passenger rail service continued to receive strong public interest, with 280 submissions. The Rail Working Party is continuing to investigate the feasibility of such a service and public consultation is expected to take place next year as part of the Long Term Plan process.
The council is expected to adopt the Annual Plan on 29 June.