Environment Waikato is seeking community feedback on plans to cut next year’s budget for supporting community environmental initiatives and for protecting the region’s native animals, plants and special outdoor places.
The suggestions - outlined in EW’s recently released draft 2009-19 Long-Term Council Community Plan (LTCCP) – are part of the council’s response to the current tight economic circumstances.
Overall, the draft LTCCP proposes the council’s spending on natural heritage and supporting community groups to be cut from $1.48 million in 2008-09 to $1.22 million next year.
EW chairman Peter Buckley said if ratepayers wanted the council to not go ahead with any of the suggested cuts then spending reductions would have to be made elsewhere in the 2009-10 budget, or rates would have to rise more than the proposed average of four per cent.
In the current financial year, the targeted natural heritage rate is $5.60 per household, all of which goes toward permanent protection of significant places in the region. Next year it is proposed to reduce funding for natural heritage from about $931,000 to $685,000.
Two other programmes also would be funded from the heritage rate, but at lower levels than this year.
The Environmental Initiatives Fund is used to give grants to community groups and schools for environmental enhancement or education projects. Currently it is 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 per property natural heritage rate.
Current programmes that offer assistance to landowners and community groups doing biodiversity restoration or pest control would be eliminated next year. This includes funding for:
· grants to support community groups with planting and fencing costs
· stock-proof fencing at key ecological sites
· support and bait supplies for Coromandel community groups
· assistance with pest control at community restoration projects such as Bald Hill and Harker’s Reserve.
· advancing the Fonterra Dairy Accord wetlands protection
· geothermal care groups
That budget of $212,000 would be scrapped. However, landowners and groups could compete for support through the Environmental Initiatives Fund.
The council also wants to hear what ratepayers think of a proposed $1.80 per property charge to jointly fund the maintenance of the predator-proof fence and pest free status of the Maungatautari Ecological Island in conjunction with Waipa District Council. The Maungatautari community trust would continue to be responsible for funding the public education, ecosystem restoration and research projects on the mountain. The Crown is also expected to contribute.
Taken together, the proposed changes to natural heritage funding would mean a per property targeted rate of $7.40 instead of this year’s $5.60.
"Our proposals are the result of a difficult juggling act," said Cr Buckley.
"The Resource Management Act places an obligation on regional councils to maintain indigenous biodiversity and community surveys show there is a high level of public concern about the loss of our region’s native plants, animals, special landscapes and threatened ecosystems.
"But we are also trying to set our budget for next year in the face of a significant economic downturn, reduced investment fund income, inflation and depreciation.
"We need to know if the public thinks we’ve got it right with our natural heritage budgeting for next year, or whether we’re planning to spend too much or too little. I encourage people to have their say. They should bear in mind that, if they want us to spend more than proposed in this area, cuts would have to be made elsewhere or we would need to lift rates by more than what is currently suggested."
Submissions on the draft LTCCP close on Friday 20 April. For details on how to make a submission you can visit www.ew.govt.nz(external link) or phone 0800 800 401. People can also use the submission form in the latest special edition of Envirocare magazine entitled "Your Waikato" which is being delivered to households around the region.