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Unsurprising Feedback, Valuable Ideas Flood In On Council’s Long-Term Plan

Hamilton Mayor Paula Southgate is voicing her appreciation for the ideas Hamiltonians have shared on Council’s draft Long-Term Plan.

Close to 3000 residents and organisations took up the opportunity to share their views between 19 March and 21 April. The themes of submissions received during the consultation were presented to Elected Members in an information session last week.

Council sought the community’s feedback on a range of issues including plans for managing the city finances, and whether costs should be further reduced, likely affecting what is delivered for the community.

Mayor Paula Southgate said submitters have made great points and raised good questions.

“As expected, transport projects, such as cycle lanes and speed bumps, have attracted much attention. This has largely been resolved. I had already pushed stop or reduced any new projects of that kind. Deputy Mayor Angela and I have put forward a new improved framework for the approval of transport projects which has been implemented by Council, with much more focus on community input.

“I have also read good ideas for user pays, which I believe we must explore.”

Rates

Council is proposing an average rates increase of 19.9% ($11 per week for a median-value residential property) in 2024/25, and 15.5% for the following four years (2025/26 to 2028/29). The increases would see Council balance its books (everyday costs paid for by everyday revenues) in three years and remain within its debt-to-revenue cap.

  • Unsurprisingly, a high number of comments in the submissions felt the rates increases were too high. Of the 2992 submissions received, 1111 included comments on the level of the proposed rates increases, and 420 comments suggested Council reduce spending.
  • More than 300 comments were critical of transport infrastructure such as raised safety platforms, cycling paths and in-lane bus stops.
  • However, 378 comments were supportive or understanding of the proposed approach to managing finances, including the proposed rates increase.
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“I hear loud and clear that the proposed rate rises are clearly unaffordable for many, especially those on fixed incomes,” said Mayor Southgate

“For me, the impact on ratepayers is very important. I have asked staff to continue to work hard to find savings and look again at our capital programme, to see what additional projects can be deferred, particularly in the first five years.”

Lower rates increases would leave Council with few levers to pull – reduce what it is planning to deliver for the city, or delay balancing the books, which would incur more debt and interest costs.

“There is no easy solution to the pressures we and Councils across New Zealand face, but we absolutely must be cost effective in what we do always,” Mayor Southgate said.

Council reducing its costs

Respondents were also asked whether they supported Council reducing costs with a likely impact on services, saving an average of $10.4 million per year.

  • 48% of respondents were supportive of Council reducing costs through reducing its services, however, 33% said they would prefer to see Council’s services maintained.
  • The most-mentioned category of services respondents wanted Council to reduce or remove was transport, with 782 comments suggesting a reduction. On the other hand, 421 comments requested no reduction on transport.
  • Other services respondents did not want to see reduced or removed were rubbish and recycling (590 comments), water services (444 comments), parks and recreation (423 comments), and community services (375 comments, of which 296 mentioned libraries).

A walking and cycling bridge

Council sought feedback on continuing its plans to build a walking and cycling bridge over the Waikato River in the central city. Of the 2580 respondents who shared their thoughts, 1538 were generally opposed to building the bridge, 682 were generally supportive, and 452 comments were neutral.

Targeted rates for additional services

Council asked if respondents were supportive of delivering additional services which would be funded via targeted rates.

  • 1320 respondents (47%) were against additional community infrastructure projects being funded through a targeted rate, while 1067 respondents (38%) were in favour. Of these, 829 would support a targeted rate of 40c per week for a median-value residential property, and 238 would support a targeted rate of 80c per week for a median-value residential property.
  • 1328 respondents (47%) did not want to see additional community resilience and extreme weather projects funded. 1142 respondents (41%) were in favour. Of these, 884 would support a targeted rate of 40c per week for a median-value residential property, and 258 would support a targeted rate of 80c per week for a median-value residential property.

Next steps

Verbal submissions will be heard from 15-17 May. Council will then consider all community feedback. Council will meet to adopt the Long-Term Plan 2024-34 and set rates for 2024-25 on 4 July 2024.

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