The Whakatāne District Council’s draft budget for the 2019/20 financial year will propose a number of changes from the work programme and budget previously set out for the year in the 2018-28 Long Term Plan (LTP).

At a meeting of the Council’s Policy Committee on 14 February, elected members approved in principle a recommendation to bring forward a revised work programme, recognising that there would be implications for the rating and debt measures set out in the LTP.

Committee chairperson, Deputy Mayor Judy Turner, says the proposed changes have been driven by a number of significant challenges and opportunities which have evolved since the LTP was adopted last year.

“The key aspect from the community’s perspective is that the average rates increase for the year across the district is likely to be around 4.16 percent,” she says. “While that is within the limit the LTP provides for, it is higher than the 2.88 percent increase predicted for the year – and higher than Councillors would like.

“However, we have to recognise that there are drivers for change which we need to respond to, many of which offer opportunities to progress some exciting community priorities.”

Significant spending priorities which are likely to be included in the final budget for 2019/20 include:

  • Work required to apply for Provincial Growth Fund support for Whakatāne’s waterfront and town centre regeneration project;
  • Meeting the local share of costs related to Wainui Road safety improvements and walking and cycling initiatives;
  • Water and wastewater upgrades and operating cost increases, in response to monitoring and legislative requirements; and
  • Funding for a managed retreat from the debris flow hazard on the Awatarariki fanhead, the cost of earthquake-prone building strengthening, and work required to progress a climate change project.

Mrs Turner says a capital expenditure increase of close to $13 million is proposed for the expanded work programme, which would have implications for the Council’s current $80 million debt cap. “Whakatāne is one of the few councils in New Zealand that cap their debt at a specific amount,” she explains. “Most councils use a calculation based on a percentage of total revenue or total operating income and Committee members have signaled that they would prefer total debt capped at 150 percent of total revenue, which for the current year would set the cap at $112 million.”

A budget review incorporating the proposed changes will be presented to the Policy Committee on 6 March, with a final draft budget and community consultation document expected to be adopted on 21 March. Community feedback will then be sought on the proposed budget and work programme changes, with submissions closing on 29 April. Submission hearings and deliberations will take place in May, with any resulting changes incorporated in the final 2019/20 Annual Plan, which is expected to be ready for adoption on 26 June.