Looking at the 2008 annual report for the Hastings Council, ,you might be surprised to see total revenue of nearly $100 million ($92.16M to be exact).The HDC is big business, employing just under 400 people, and spending many millions of dollars in contracted services and consultancy fees … these three account for some $37.5 million – nearly 41% of total revenue.

Since 2003/04, more than 100 people have been added to the HDC payroll. Now, there is nothing wrong with that as long as all employees are highly productive. The most important issue is how the revenue is spent. Do the ratepayers get the maximum bang for their bucks?

The property boom is the main reason the Bay (along with other districts) has leapt ahead and looks so good. The District has come a long way since those hard times in the latter 90s. And in economic good times people just pay up.

But, with the major economies of the world encountering financial turmoil and with NZ obviously being part of the Global Village, it is just a matter of time until the full effects are felt in here. Some businesses have gone to the wall; others are paring costs in order to survive.

One would trust that the HDC will be prudent in implementing their district plan and set the budget accordingly … as such a rate increase of nil or of the smallest magnitude would be in order. Forget property development, concentrate on infrastructure and operate any loss-making enterprises more efficiently.

Much debate has occurred on the loss-making duo – Opera House and Splash Planet. I doubt that even in the old days, when it was known as the Municipal Theatre and you could catch a movie there, has the Opera House ever run at a profit. There is no argument the facility is a big plus for the district, like a library. It’s just something you pay for; how it is run may or may not be up for scrutiny.

How about Splash Planet? At times over the summer months you can drive past and see 100s of cars, so you have to think there must be things that are right about it. Although, by all accounts, it runs at a loss of some $800,000 per year. There must be ways of improving this situation, the goal being for the facility to turn a profit. Private enterprise could well be the answer. Track records of central or local government running businesses are not great.

According to a report in HB Today, the HDC has figured in a number of court cases in recent times. More often than not, HDC has come off second best. This must be a disappointing situation as it obviously takes up an enormous amount of time and effort, not to mention the dollar cost to the ratepayer. It would be interesting to know in any financial year what the actual above costs were … it would be like a performance standard barometer. Getting to the bottom of “why and how” the HDC finds itself on the loosing end of court actions would be a most efficient and cost-saving exercise, to the rate payer that is.

Rodney Hide recently expounded the view that ten-year plans were soaking up a lot of time, effort and money for something that may or may not happen. If you know your infrastructure needs, you budget accordingly. Projected major population increase would cause pressure on infrastructure, but how likely is that?

But then you ponder that HDC has increased staffing levels some 39% since 2003/04 – interesting. There was an article in the Christchurch Press (14/03/2009) comparing South Island authorities in various ways, one being council staff increases compared to population growth. It would be interesting if a similar exercise could be done in the North Island.

Debt is necessary, though we now see the results world-wide of too much debt. The HDC, like all other Local Authorities, ties its debt to Total Assets … some 6.9% for 2009/10. Expressed this way, it pails into insignificance. But, one must take into account debt to annual income in any one year — for the 2008 year it is approaching 78%. Not by any means over the top, although a watchful eye needs to be kept on this figure. After all it is public debt, yours, the ratepayer.

That brings me to the point … it is your council. Yes, you the ratepayer indirectly employ all the staff. And, in the main they do a pretty good job, councilors too, but like any enterprise or business there is room for improvement,

When he began his stint at the Far North Council, Mayor Wayne Brown gathered the staff and councillors and announced in no uncertain terms that the time had come for attitudes to change, and that his policy would be one of putting ratepayers back in charge of council — doing things for the ratepayer and not doing things to them. Refreshing.

It is truly regretful that the Sports Park issue is back before the court. Frustrating, costly in so many ways, and who pays? Yes, correct, you the ratepayer. But you have to ask: did the HDC follow all the procedures, because if they did, how can a case be brought before the court? Nelson Park was way beyond its use-by date, and what is envisaged would be of great benefit. Completed stage by stage, the benefits should outweigh the costs.

Recently, the Havelock North Citizens Incorporated were totally successful in a High Court Action against the Hastings Council regarding the issuing of two Certificates of Compliance. The action seemed to take forever to get before the Court and in all that time the HDC defended its decision on issuing the certificates come hell or high water. However, the Judge found that the HDC had erred. The certificates were judged unlawful, and the cost to the ratepayer was some $55,000 plus. That’s without the time, effort and loss of focus on other matters. The legal action shouldn’t have been necessary. One would sincerely hope that HDC have not fallen into a similar situation on the Sports Park matter.

As indicated above HDC runs a pretty good operation, but that does not mean that it is beyond scrutiny. With challenging times upon us, the populace is in no mood for a rate increase. I believe HDC needs to do some serious sole searching on costs and some of its procedures, and not expect the usual increased economic transfusion from the ratepayer.

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