Yesterday I talked about what is missing from Councils’ new ten year plans:

  • Serious efforts to cut costs and eliminate ineffective or low-priority activities;
  • Serious assessment of staffing levels and projected staff growth;
  • Serious discussion of shared services among Councils.

Today we move on to BayBuzz’ s “Top Ten” issues raised by the Hastings, Napier and Regional Council plans.

BayBuzz Top Ten

In Hastings, for my first two I’ll go with Councillor Wayne Bradshaw’s issues, as he discusses in this Guest Buzzmaker article.

1. Deferred maintenance – overdue expenditure on upkeep of social infrastructure, like footpaths, neighborhood playgrounds, and Council-owned halls, clubhouses and other community facilities. Ratepayers need to ask why Council has failed to keep pace with basic maintenance requirements for these assets, and then address what must be done funding-wise to close existing gaps in service levels in a more expeditious manner.

2. Sharply increasing debt – Hastings debt will rise from $68 million to $96 million. Ratepayers must question the overall debt level, and the types of activities that are debt-funded. As Nick Stewart says in this BayBuzz article, not all debt is bad. But debt needs to be incurred in only the right circumstances, and not to fund current services while artificially reducing near-term rates.

3. Heretaunga Plains land use – the Hastings LTCCP presents formulation of a land use plan for the Plains as more or less its #1 strategic priority. But it’s time for action to match the rhetoric. And consideration of long-term constraints on water supply must be part of the equation. Tied into this is a $3 million District Plan review, which would reflect any broader strategies and public expectations regarding further urban and rural (including coastal) development in the District.

4. “Customer service” scheme — given its huge $4.7 million price tag over the next three years, this project must be rigorously challenged. Personally, I’m open to hearing the case; but I don’t think it has yet been made, including in the LTCCP documents. It’s not clear that this is not simply a building scheme, wrapped in “customer service” rhetoric. The Chief Executive is reorganising his senior management structure, and all incumbents need to re-apply for newly advertised senior positions. This reorganisation could have far greater impact on “customer service” at HDC than new customer management software and call centres … at far less cost.

5. Commercial ventures – the Council’s future role and expenditures in what should be commercial and entrepreneurial activities must be examined – Splash Planet, the Opera House, the proposed Council-owned property development company – as well as its marketing support role and funding for signature events in the District.

In Napier, Mayor Arnott, in her interview here with BayBuzz, has flagged one key issue – stormwater management – that I would agree with.

6. Stormwater management — in below-sea-level Napier, this is a “big ticket” item that will pose bigger and bigger challenges. But I would put wastewater treatment under the microscope as well. Many environmentalists don’t think much of the “Biological Trickling Filter” wastewater treatment system that Napier (and Hastings) is installing to turn unacceptable poop into acceptable poop before it is pumped into the Bay. Just as many question whether Napier is properly handling residential sites within the city that still have their own septic systems.

As for the Regional Council, I would endorse the two issues Chairman Alan Dick discusses in this BayBuzz article, water and investment policy, and add two more.

7. Water strategy – as far as I’m concerned, it’s impossible for the Regional Council to do too much to better understand and improve its stewardship of the region’s water supply and quality. The financial commitment proposed in the HBRC’s ten-year plan is fully justified … so long as it leads to prompt action.

8. Investment strategy – HBRC plan to marshall its investment assets more actively on behalf of regional economic development is exciting. It potentially puts the Regional Council in a more energetic role in terms of facilitating infrastructure and business activities that can protect our environment, conserve our resources and foster sustainable growth.

Related to this is the new responsibility HBRC is taking for the region’s economic development and tourism agency, Hawke’s Bay Inc. The Regional Council will supervise and fully fund the agency, giving it at last a fair shot at delivering on its mission – to be a leader in advancing the region’s economic well-being. For example, HB Inc is taking the lead in planning with all stakeholders for a successful Bay hosting of World Rugby Cup matches, as well as a visiting team.

9. Healthy homes – ensuring healthy homes accounts for the lion’s share of the Regional Council’s rate increase, for those areas affected. However, providing well-insulated, dry and heated homes yields such dramatic health benefits, which spill over into significant economic and educational benefits, that it’s hard to imagine a local government investment with a bigger pay-off.

10. Maori partnership – the Regional Council proposes funding assistance to help build capacity within the Maori community to engage more substantively in the decision-making of the Council. Significant Treaty Settlements related to Ngati Kahungunu are expected, which are likely to provide economic and social redress involving natural resource management. Water policy-making, with its new strategic status at the Council, is just one example of where Maori rights and interests must be better incorporated in the future.

These are my “Top Ten” issues. You have about four weeks to examine the plans, draw your own conclusions and communicate your views to Councils. Don’t let this important opportunity pass.

Tom

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