Next Thursday (11 March), the Napier City Council will adopt its LTP consultation document.
It’s a shocker in several respects.
Perhaps most significantly, its forecast of external debt – rising from nil today to a peak of $320 million over the life of the plan.
This might be the shocker of all time to Napier ratepayers, who have been deluded by previous NCC regimes into believing (or at least wishfully thinking) that the city could have safe drinking water, properly dispose of stormwater and wastewater, and stop regularly fouling its national natural treasure (aka, the Ahuriri Estuary) without having to pay a bill.
Last laugh goes to Lawrence Yule, who during the amalgamation debate was trashed by then-Mayor Dalton for carrying a $100 million or so debt at HDC, which Dalton claimed would be fobbed off to Napier ratepayers in a unified council.
Well, that deception has finally come to roost … to the tune of $320 million to gradually upgrade Napier’s waterworks from Third World status.
A present condition that underscores the fantasy of chlorine-free water. The consultation document will nevertheless cling to the fantasy, the decision memo suggesting there’s a “pathway from the current status quo to a future proofed resilient system with a residual disinfection that can then progress to a chlorine free network”. Uh huh!
Debt aside, rates over the next three years are being tested at 8%, 7% and 7% for the next three years, then rising to 9% (deferring that reality to the next group of councillors).
Faced with these core infrastructure costs, NCC residents will be asked if they want to go slow on making the water supply fully compliant (i.e., taking 10 years) or briskly (taking only five).
In ‘pre-engagement’ around the draft LTP, Napier residents responded to this ‘pacing’ question:
“There are a number of projects in the pipeline over the next ten years that are not related to infrastructure, such as a new aquatic facility and a new library. Do you think Council should delay projects, to help reduce the pressure on rates?”
61% responded in favour of delaying the non-water projects. 51% of respondents rated drinking water as their top and a further 31% as their second-to-top. The light bulb has gone on!
One overdue casualty: The National Aquarium of NZ. The decision memo comments: “funding in the Capital Plan for the redevelopment has been removed, but Council will continue to maintain the facility while options for the Aquarium’s future are investigated.” Eventual closure is one option under review.
Another deferral: Napier Aquatic Centre. The decision memo, again citing ongoing “investigation” of options, comments: “Funding for the redevelopment has been removed from the plan to be considered when we next review it in 2024.” Tossed off to the next crew.
And don’t expect to hear much about a new library/Civic Precinct before 2024.
All in all, it seems like reality has set in for NCC councillors. Next to be seen in the LTP consultation process, do Napier ratepayers ‘get it’ as well.