The Regional Council has become Hawke’s Bay’s funder of first and last resort.
Local bodies come to it for grants for museums, velodromes, town halls, and sewage systems.
The Regional Council finances healthy homes; it defers payments for Napier leaseholders; it subsidizes bus transportation, as well as transport for the disabled; it finances tourism promotion.
It earns carbon credits from trees and dividends from the Port.
Soon the Regional Council hopes to finance (presumably that means ‘own’) a variety of dams around the region … how it extracts revenue from those remains to be seen.
And of course myriad interest groups come to its teller window each year, begging for money for projects the local bodies might or might not wish to support. The main challenge for submitters is to convince the Regional Councillors that their projects are indeed of ‘regional’ significance.
In short, HBRC is the public banker for the region.
Perhaps there should be more strings attached to this bank’s largesse … at least with respect to its funding of local body projects.
For example, next year each of our local bodies will be re-writing their Long Term Plans, which set forth budgets for the following three years.
Starting with those Plans, the HBRC Bank could say to local bodies:
We will only consider funding requests that have been endorsed by a pre-screening process (including public consultation) conducted by a standing Joint Planning Committee including representation from all five councils in the region.
And going further, the HBRC Bank could say to all private parties seeking funding in certain ‘regionally-significant’ areas:
If you are seeking funding for tourism/regional promotion, sport & recreation, arts & culture, social services, Maori initiatives, or economic development, we will only consider funding requests that have been confirmed to be consistent with current regional plans governing that particular area, as certified by the Joint Planning Committee.
This proposal would give all the players – both public and private sector – a year to get their acts together.
The Joint Planning Committee would be established. Local bodies would need to ‘sell’ their projects within a regional priorities framework, if they wanted HBRC funding.
The Joint Planning Committee would identify, update and bring into harmony a whole host of ‘regional plans’ for specific sectors — several, like one on sport, are sitting around gathering dust — so that these could be used to prioritize funding proposals that truly held regional significance.
And in sectors where such regional plans don’t exist — e.g., economic development — relevant interest groups would receive HBRC assistance to formulate them, so that such plans could then guide HBRC funding decisions.
Of course, this approach would allow local bodies to fund anything they wanted to fund — on their own — within their own jurisdictions. And it would leave private interests free to seek whatever local body financial support they wished.
The only change: If a project or request isn’t regional in scope and presented according to the ground rules set forth above, don’t bother applying to the Regional Council Bank.
Yes, there would be some start-up pain … much of it felt by local bodies. But the ratepayers and the region would be better served.