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Published: 2009-03-12 00:00:00

Environment Waikato has today adopted its Draft 2009-19 Long Term Council Community Plan (LTCCP) and is hoping for a flood of submissions on its proposed activities and budgets.

The LTCCP is a plan Environment Waikato produces every three years to inform Waikato residents about the activities it intends to fund and provide over the next 10 years.

Chairman Peter Buckley said the council had taken a pragmatic approach in the current economic climate. "We have narrowed our focus to core services aimed at protecting the environment and helping the region bounce back when the economy starts to recover."

The council has placed particular emphasis on reducing spending over the first three years of the plan, and is proposing total rates revenue of $65.41 million, meaning an average rates increase of 4 per cent to existing ratepayers for the financial year beginning 1 July 2009. Despite spending cuts of $9 million compared to earlier budgets, rates are increasing due to inflation, depreciation and lower than anticipated returns from the investment fund.

"Given the economic pressures on our community and our own funding, we have focused on holding costs as low as possible over the next few years," Cr Buckley said. "But budget cuts will have consequences and it’s important Waikato residents tell us the impact on their communities – we need to hear whether people think we should be doing more or less."

It is proposed that several projects are stopped or cut because of the council’s own investment fund delivering lower than budgeted returns. These include Clean Streams, and funding for community environmental initiatives and air quality initiatives.

Other budgets that would be significantly reduced or cut include waste minimisation schemes, support for community groups such as Beachcare and pest control.

A key proposal is to change the way the council funds environmental initiatives, biodiversity protection on private land and natural heritage. The council is proposing to increase the existing natural heritage rate from $5.60 to $7.40. This rate will fund all these activities at a reduced rate, with the additional $1.80 being earmarked specifically for the Maungatautari project, where EW proposes to take over joint responsibility with Waipa District Council for maintaining the predator-proof fence around the mountain.

Also, the council is looking to hold staff costs, with Environment Waikato filling only essential vacancies, and reduce consultants and other overhead costs by $1.38m.

The consultation period runs from 20 March to 20 April 2009. The council will consider public submissions during May, and confirm a final plan before 1 July.