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New CouncilMARK™ Report Highlights Rates Versus Investment Tension

Ōtorohanga District Council has received their first CouncilMARK™ report today, finding a small council focused on core priorities, that is facing increasing pressure to meet growing community and infrastructure expectations.

CouncilMARK™ is an independent assessment programme that assesses how councils are performing and is designed to support individual councils to improve the service and value they provide. Councils receive an overall performance rating from the Independent Assessment Board (IAB), from C to AAA, as well as commentary on their performance.

In delivering a CCC rating for the council the IAB found a fiscally conservative council with low debt and tight control of its operating costs, that needs to address future investment into its core assets including three waters infrastructure.

“Ōtorohanga is a low-debt, low-rates councils with one of the smallest employee counts that we’ve seen. This has some obvious benefits, but there’s a growing need for the council to invest in key infrastructure and the staff who can lead this work,” said IAB Chair Toby Stevenson.

“They have a substantial asset renewal programme in front of them. More staff capacity and strong reporting mechanisms, particularly around risk, are needed to progress this.”

“The council is grappling with the same tensions we see across the country, where both ratepayers and governance seek to hold down rates at the expense of capital investment to meet increasing community and national standards and population growth.”

“The upside is that the council has a great culture and a good understanding of the challenges to their three waters and road networks. Now it’s about setting a strategy, making some hard decisions around increasing capacity and planning the work needed to ensure adequate service delivery levels for the next 40-50 years.”

“Ratepayers should be pleased that this information won’t be news to the council. Both the mayor and the chief executive are aware of the need to invest in the council’s capability and infrastructure planning, and are working to address this.”

“The issue is that austerity shows up across most of the organisation. For example their community engagement is quite informal, and while the Mayor and Chief Executive both speak regularly with the media, business and iwi would both like to see more regular engagement to ensure they’re heard.”

“Developing a communications strategy, building up their digital and social media, regular independent residents’ surveys and more regular iwi and business engagement is needed.”

“Small councils can operate with the professionalism of a bigger organisation, while still meeting ratepayers’ expectations on rating levels. Many of the challenges in the report are actually opportunities to build connection with the community, so the IAB expect to see Ōtorohanga District Council rise to these challenges,” concluded Mr Stevenson.

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