Sustainable management of natural resources is key to region’s long-term prosperity “A healthy and prosperous economy depends on a healthy environment” is the key principle that underpins Environment Waikato's 10-year vision for the region, says Environment Waikato chair, Jenni Vernon.
“Our natural resources – clean air, fresh water, healthy soils, predator-free forests and attractive beaches – are the fuel that powers our region's economic and social growth”, she said.
“But these valuable environmental resources are not an inexhaustible supply. Environment Waikato’s role is to help sustainably manage these natural resources, so that our region’s prosperity and growth can continue for the long term.
In launching the 2006-2016 draft Long-Term Council Community Plan (LTCCP), Jenni Vernon set out the major projects Environment Waikato proposes to carry out over the next 10 years, and how it plans to fund them.
With the intensification of agriculture and the pressure for higher productivity, it is increasingly important that agriculture is undertaken in a sustainable way – otherwise we run the risk of destroying the natural capital that creates our region's prosperity.
Reducing the risk of flooding
In the Waikato region, there are more people living on floodplains than ever before, as this land is a prime location for buyers and developers looking for flat sections located near water. Unfortunately, as weather patterns change, floods in our region may become more frequent, which is likely to directly affect these communities.
Environment Waikato will continue our management and implementation of successful river and catchment projects across the region, including Coromandel Peninsula (Peninsula Project), the Waikato River (Project Watershed), the Waihou Valley and Piako River schemes. The work programmes have been developed in conjunction with local catchment representatives.
One of Environment Waikato’s responsibilities is to sustainably manage the allocation of water in our region. Increasing and competing demands for water mean we will soon be meeting the limits of the region’s water resources in some places. Environment Waikato is reviewing the way our Regional Plan deals with these issues.
Improving our transport network
Environment Waikato is responsible for managing the region's passenger transport network, including overseeing the fourth-largest bus network in the country. We are proposing to shift all remaining bus services to a ‘gross contracts’ basis – which will allow Environment Waikato greater flexibility with route provision and the ability to adjust service levels to meet expanding consumer demand.
At present, most of our bus services operate under a ‘net contracts’ basis, where the bus company collects the fares. With the proposed shift of all remaining services to the ‘gross contracts’ basis, Environment Waikato would collect the fares from the buses. In addition, we also propose expanding services in Hamilton, such as the Orbiter service.
This expansion of services will be undertaken with no increase in the targeted Passenger Transport Rate, as Environment Waikato would be gaining significant increased revenue from fare recovery, and extra funding assistance from Land Transport New Zealand for the new bus services.
The Regional Policy Statement is a key document that guides the work we do, and the decisions we make. The Resource Management Act requires us to periodically review and update our Regional Policy Statement. Work on revising the document will begin next year, as we assess its strengths and weaknesses and liaise with key stakeholders.
Toward a fairer rating system
Environment Waikato is always looking for ways to distribute our rates more fairly. In recent years, we have consciously reduced our reliance on the general rate, which is based on the capital value of property.
Instead, we have applied a number of principles that have allowed us to direct our costs where we believe they should most reasonably be. In 2000 about 33 per cent of our revenue came from the general rate, today it is just 25 per cent.
We are very mindful about the impact of costs on the community, so we're always looking for ways to work more efficiently. We try to target our rates to the people who benefit most from the work we do, or to those who contribute to the need for that work to occur in the first place - for example, the proposals for a ‘permitted activities’ rate and greater cost-recovery of consent holder charges.
Permitted activity monitoring
Last year, we carried out some intensive checking of farms around the region, only to find that compliance with important regulations was not nearly as good as it should be. The increasing fragmentation of land and small block development also has impacts on our soils and water through subdivision and land use.
This year we are proposing a new targeted rate that will pay for an increased monitoring programme of what we call ‘permitted activities’. These are activities that do not currently require a resource consent, but which can cause serious environmental problems if done improperly. The rate would be targeted at people who own property larger than 2 hectares, which is where these activities are most likely to occur. The cost would be approximately $33 per property.
The impact of resource use
Activities such as taking water for irrigation, or discharging emissions into the air require a consent under the Resource Management Act. The holders of these resource consents pay an annual fee to Environment Waikato for administering that consent and ensuring its impact on the environment is understood.
A recent review of the costs of gathering information relevant to consents found that the general rate was contributing more than it should. Under the council's policy, private benefits should be paid by the consent holder, while public benefits should be paid for by general ratepayers. Therefore we are proposing to shift approximately $550,000 from the general ratepayer, and instead collect it from consent holders by increasing the information gathering charge for many consents.
Shift to Differential Rating
In order to create a fairer rating system, we are proposing shifting to a differential rating system to smooth the effects of different council revaluation schedules across the region.
At the moment, district councils revalue their properties on different schedules, and these revaluation schedules are not synchronised across the region. Last year, for example, Otorohanga and Taupo districts had their properties revalued. This meant that the percentage increase in their regional council rates was much higher than other districts. It was especially high for people whose property values increased more than the average. This year Waipa, Waikato and Taupo districts have had revaluations, and have seen significant increases in property values.
Environment Waikato is proposing to smooth the effect of different district council revaluation schedules. We plan to base our rates on a three-yearly average of property value changes in each district. Places where values went up will still see rate increases, but not as large as they would otherwise have been. In effect, we will do away with ‘winners and losers’ based on which properties were revalued in a particular year.
Uniform charge for navigation safety
A UAGC is a flat charge, per property, for a particular service or activity. We apply our UAGC to services that are related to people rather than property – so the charge does not change when property values increase.
This year, a new proposal for the UAGC is to include the cost of keeping our waterways safe for the people who use them. These services, such as harbour patrols, removing hazards, safety education campaigns and navigation aids are available to people regardless of the value of their home or business. This would see the UAGC rise from $35.77 to $52.42 per ratepayer.
What does it mean for my rates?
What is proposed for your rates will vary depending on several factors, such as the size of your property, where you live, what work Environment Waikato does in your area and how your property values have changed. In general, across the region:
Last year most people paid less than $350 in rates to Environment Waikato.
Next year the proposed increase for most people would be less than $30.
Over the three years until this LTCCP is reviewed our expenditure is projected to increase 9 per cent after subtracting inflation -- an average of about 3 per cent per year.
Note: Inflation is expected to increase costs about 20 per cent over the 10 years. This means that work that costs $1,000 in 2007, would cost $1,200 by 2016 – even if nothing else changed.
Have your say
To get a full copy of the draft plan, phone 0800 800 401, or visit www.ew.govt.nz after it is posted on 24 March.