Last Thursday was an emotional day at the Hastings Council as Councillors weighed the trade-offs in the draft 2010/11 annual budget, soon to be issued for public consultation.
What was all the fuss about?
Well, it wasn’t over the 90% increase in staff costs over the last eight years.
No, it wasn’t over whether the new Clive sewage treatment plant will ever stop smelling.
Nor was it over closed-to-the-public consideration of a lobbying slush fund to help push the case for a velodrome at the sports park.
Nor was it any of the “big ticket” items in the $57 million in spending recommended by staff.
No, heavier issues weighed on the Councillors and fueled their passions …
- Should photocopying fees at the library be increased from $0.10 to $0.20? After all, there’s $8,100 at stake.
- Should there be an inflation adjustment made to Hastings’ 50% share of the costs of the HB Cultural Trust … I forget the exact fiscal implication … around $7k as I recall.
- Should Councillors get more ratepayer subsidy for their “official business” computer and internet costs? [Although Councillors themselves are feeling the pinch on their household telecommunications bills, they didn’t hesitate to sock elderly ratepayers living in Council flats with a proposed $5-$7 per week hike in rent!]
- And what about disturbing complaints that urban residents who cut “The Council’s” curbside grass in front of their homes have no place to put the clippings? [I’m not kidding!]
This is a tragi-comic scene repeated each budget year.
The staff recommends a nearly $60 million operating budget (no depreciation or capital expense in that figure) and then — I think for the sheer delight of watching what ensues — provides a list of about $1 million worth of “maybe’s” for the Councillors to hyper-ventilate about.
It works every time. The Councillors are totally distracted — I’d say happily — from the big picture.
Now for some good news …
At Thursday’s session, the Chief Executive reported on efficiencies that had been achieved in Council operations — in areas like energy use, fewer rates notices, less dependence on outside engineering consultants, outsourcing of nursery activities — accounting for a 5% savings in operating costs.
More than any other Councillor, Wayne Bradshaw deserves some credit for this accomplishment. With most Councillors yawning and fidgeting, Councillor Bradshaw insisted that this target be set during last year’s budgeting process. I’m sure the Chief Executive would say that he’s always looking for savings. But it never hurts to have the incentive of a mandated public target!
Says Councillor Bradshaw: “It was very pleasing to see the list of Efficiencies Achieved since the 5% target was introduced in last year’s LTCCP. I would congratulate the CEO and all the HDC staff for their positive efforts in this area. Whilst some of the savings listed as efficiencies could be debated as prudent management, it is still a positive step forward.”
“Setting a target creates a need to look for efficiencies. This helps lead to better practices and a change in the culture of the Council. In past years, the practice seems to have been ‘let’s tell the Councillors what we are going to spend’ rather than the other way around.”
Wouldn’t it be nice if the Napier and Regional Councils followed Hastings’ lead on this one?