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Likely rate rise kept to 5.1 percent despite costs

12 March 2008

Likely rate rise kept to 5.1 percent despite rising costs

Wellington City Council’s Strategy and Policy Committee yesterday agreed to a range of new initiatives and other changes that if approved will result in an average real rates increase of 5.1 percent.

Mayor Kerry Prendergast says the increase is a significant achievement given the fiscal pressures all local authorities face and 2 percent below the 7.08 percent increase forecast for the 2008/09 financial year in the Council’s Long Term Council Community Plan.

“The costs associated with constructing and maintaining the city’s infrastructure remain well above the level of inflation,” she says. “We’re also facing increasing staff costs associated with Wellington’s tight labour market and having to absorb more and more compliance and other costs that are being passed on by central government.”

She says this year’s draft plan is in keeping with the direction and priorities agreed two years ago but some new initiatives are being proposed that the community will be able to comment on.

“Next year we are required to look again at our long term plan, which will involve discussions about the city’s strategic direction and service levels,” she says. “The major aim will be to ensure Wellington remains an affordable yet internationally competitive city.”

Decisions made at the Strategy and Policy Committee yesterday will be debated and approved for consultation at a Council meeting on Thursday 27 March. Wellingtonians will then get an opportunity to comment on what’s planned, from Wednesday 16 April to Monday 19 May. That feedback will be one of the factors Councillors take into account when they meet in late June to make final decisions. The final plan will be published in July.

Some of the new initiatives proposed this year include:

* Bioreactor feasibility study – this study will assess sustainable options for disposing of sewage sludge from the city’s Moa Point sewage treatment plant. At the moment the dewatered sludge is piped to the Southern Landfill where it has been used to make compost. However, the composting operation will not be continuing after this year. Instead, the Council is committed to finding an alternative way to dispose of the sludge. Options that will be investigated include converting the sludge and other organic waste into electricity or LPG using a bioreactor and also a possible joint arrangement with Porirua City Council to develop a sewage sludge drying plant. The additional funding being sought for this study is $50,000.

* Carey’s Gully renewable energy project – the Council takes climate change seriously and is committed to implementing measures that will contribute to its long-term goal that Wellington should be carbon neutral. This feasibility study will look at the technical, commercial, planning and legal viability of establishing a small-scale wind farm at Carey’s Gully, the site of the Southern Landfill. The additional funding being sought for this study is $50,000.

* Household travel survey – this comprehensive survey will look at the travel behaviour of Wellington commuters and residents and assist in future long-term planning. It aims to gauge the number of people that are likely to change the way they travel around the city and what it would take for them to do that. The additional funding being sought for this new initiative is $75,000.

* Additional funding for pest management is being sought to control pest animals and weeds in areas that have been identified as key native eco-systems. The funding required is $74,000.

* Anti-graffiti flying squad – additional funding of $225,000 is being sought so this initiative, launched as a one-year trial last year, can continue for another year. The first year of operation will be evaluated in June to determine what improvements can be made to the graffiti removal scheme in the coming year in light of the growing issue.

* City safety – the Council has developed a five-year vision for Courtenay Place to address alcohol-related issues, improve safety and support the 24-hour activities that happen there. Some additional funding is required and a total of $708,000 ($288,000 in Opex and $420,000 in Capex) is being sought this year for a range of proposals including more Walkwise officers at peak times, an upgrade of the street lighting in Courtenay Place and Allen and Blair streets, and extra CCTV cameras.

* Thistle Hall floor replacement – the floor of this Cuba Street community centre needs to be replaced for safety reasons. A lift, ramp, new staircase and disabled toilet will need to be installed at the same time to meet the Building Act accessibility requirements, at a total cost of $250,000.

* Reinstatement of Cog Park cog wheel – a concrete and wooden platform is proposed to display the 17-tonne cog that was the largest in the steam engine that used to winch ships up the former Patent Slip for cleaning, repairs and painting. The Evans Bay Patent Slip operated for more than 100 years (1873–1985) and is an important part of the city’s history. The cog used to sit in Cog Park but was moved so the park could be redeveloped. The plan is to relocate it on the landward side of Evans Bay Parade close to the original site of the engine house and display it in a way that will show how it might have appeared when it was in use. Lighting, landscaping and information panels about the Patent Slip are proposed. Funding of $122,000 is being sought.

* Hataitai Park access improvements – a series of changes are being proposed over the next few years for Hataitai Park to improve access and parking. These are designed to make it easier for buses and cars to get in and out of the park, improve access for cyclists and walkers, make it safer to cross Ruahine Street and to provide more parking. Funding of $350,000 is being sought in the 2008/09 financial year to redevelop the intersection of Goa and Ruahine streets and install traffic lights.

* Scoring stage feasibility study – funding of $70,000 is being sought for the next stage of a study to determine the feasibility of establishing a world class orchestral scoring stage on land behind the St James Theatre. The Council has been working with a number of parties, including the St James Theatre Trust, on the proposal, which could also include accommodation for the New Zealand Symphony Orchestra. The scoring stage would be the first in New Zealand and used to record orchestral scores for the film industry as well as providing recording facilities for a range of other organisations.

* Nairnville Park artificial surfaces – the Council is considering installing an artificial surface on the upper field at Nairnville Park in the coming financial year. The existing field has poor drainage and is often out of action during winter months. An artificial surface could be used 365 days a year, regardless of weather conditions. The estimated cost of the new surface is $750,000.

* Positively Wellington Tourism e-marketing – as Wellington’s official tourism organisation, PWT, a Council-controlled organisation, markets Wellington as New Zealand’s ultimate urban destination. To do this better, it is seeking additional funding of $519,000 to improve its website and replace its now outdated online booking system with a fully integrated system that would allow people to research, plan and book their visit to Wellington and interact with potential and previous visitors via blogs and forums.

* Pasifika festival – $60,000 a year is being sought to make this festival, held successfully for the first time this summer, an annual event.

* Karori Sanctuary – the sanctuary is seeking additional funding over the next two financial years ($300,000 in 2008/09 and $700,000 in 2009/10) to cover operational costs until the visitor centre opens. The new centre is expected to open in late 2009.

* Basin Reserve practice wickets – $450,000 has been earmarked in the 2009/10 budget to develop new practice wickets at the Basin Reserve off the main pitch. The decision has been made in anticipation of the International Cricket Council introducing this as a requirement of test venues.

Fees and charges

* We are proposing to increase some user charges. These include fees and charges relating to burials and cremations, marinas (subject to the outcome of discussions between Council staff and marina tenants), resource consents, compliance monitoring and landfill fees.

* Increased charges are not about collecting more money but helping to ensure that those who directly benefit from services pay an appropriate proportion of increasing costs. If that doesn’t happen, ratepayers must pay for all the increases through rates whether they use the particular service or facility or not. That means higher rates.

* Decisions about charges are made in accordance with the Council’s Revenue and Financing Policy.

* It is proposed landfill fees will increase from $78 to $82 a tonne to help meet the cost of kerbside recycling. The impact for residents taking rubbish to the landfill is likely to be minor. Most domestic customers pay the minimum price, which will go from $5 to $5.30 under this proposal.

* An increase in the cost of water for businesses and households that have water meters is proposed from $1.37 a cubic metre to $1.58 – an increase of 15 percent. The last increase was four years ago. Most Wellington residential property owners pay for their water through their rates (a charge of $112.50 [including GST] plus a rate per dollar of capital value) and have faced a similar level of increase since 2004/05. Only 691 residential properties have water meters.

* The annual cost of having a sandwich board to advertise a business is set to increase from $150 to $175 per year in the CBD and from $90 to $100 in the suburbs.

* We are not planning to change general admission fees for swimming pools. Pool managers will be reviewing fees for Swim School programmes and fitness centres later in the year – small increases are expected in these areas.


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