Planned Waikato Regional Council staff increases next year are in line with the council’s flagship goals and justified by demand, says the chair of the council’s finance committee Cr Phillip Legg.
“Those goals include sustaining land and water resources, having a region that is competing economically while looking after the environment, and meeting our Waikato River co-management responsibilities,” said Cr Legg, speaking in a personal capacity.
“The reality is that the regional council has a wide and growing range of responsibilities, and we need the extra staff to do our job properly on behalf of the communities we serve. In no way should this be construed as empire building.
“Most of the planned increase in full-time equivalent (FTE) staff numbers next year reflects increased demand for services that will be met by targeted rates, fees and charges or else rates effectively being levied on behalf of ourselves and other local councils to lift our regional civil defence capacity.”
Cr Legg said the extra FTEs for next year will be deployed in the following areas:
“The biggest single rise of almost 10 FTEs for river and catchment services follows extra service requests from catchment liaison sub-committees, made up of local community representatives. This important work assists the protection of our productive land from flood events, and assists erosion control through tree planting and bank stabilization which contribute to improving water quality.
“Another factor contributing to the river and catchment services staffing rise is the transfer, for efficiencies, to the regional council of 22 district council drainage areas. It makes sense for expertise in managing the region’s extensive drainage network to be located in one council.
“The extra costs will largely be met by targeted rates on those who benefit,” said Cr Legg.
The cost of an extra six FTEs for consenting, particularly relevant to new farm water allocation policies approved by the Environment Court, will mostly be funded through fees and charges, Cr Legg said.
“And we are rating for an extra 4.2 FTEs for Civil Defence with the agreement of Hamilton City and district councils in response to the Ministry of Civil Defence Emergency Management criticising the capability of the region to respond to an emergency event.
“The other FTE increases were also approved by a majority of councilors after intense scrutiny. We are extremely mindful of needing to keep costs down but we also need to be in a position to meet our legal responsibilities under legislation, such as the Resource Management Act, and to respond to community requests for services.”
Cr Legg said there had been detailed examination of all aspects of the council’s proposed Long Term Plan (LTP) ahead of the recent vote to adopt it, with a strong focus on costs.
"Rates rises - including 3.9 percent for next year - have been kept relatively low in recent years and are due to remain so for at least several years to come under the LTP.
“I believe the community can be assured that all regional councillors will strive to provide efficient and cost-effective services, whilst always keeping a close eye on the bottom line impact of our proposed expenditure on ratepayers.”