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More Investment In Biodiversity, Te Huia Funding Confirmed For Two Years

Decisions made by Waikato regional councillors over two days of deliberations respond to the challenges facing the region and provide investment for the future.

Waikato Regional Council will collect rates revenue of $142.146 million in the first year of the 2024-2034 Long Term Plan to be adopted in June, with a 7.4 per cent increase from current ratepayers in the first year.

The rates increase is higher than the 6 per cent proposed in the draft long term plan, which the council consulted on from 2 April to 2 May. During consultation, 862 submitters provided 1672 submission points, with close to 70 individuals, groups and agencies addressing councillors over three days of hearings.

A decision to increase the per property natural heritage rate to $15 a year – up from the preferred option of $8.68 per property per annum – contributed to the majority of the increase (0.9 per cent) on what was proposed. It was supported in a 9-4 vote, with 1 abstention.

Waikato Regional Council Chair Pamela Storey said: “There was some robust debate over the course of the two days as we carefully weighed up the feedback provided against the cost of living crisis impacting our communities around the region.

“We’ve worked tirelessly to construct a long term plan that balances the cost to ratepayers with the need to respond to challenges, invest in our future and continue to help build resilience in the Waikato,” she said.

During deliberations, which wrapped up on Tuesday afternoon, councillors agreed to:

  • collect a region-wide public transport rate from 2025/26, and spend the coming months developing a rating model for feedback early next year
  • distestablish the Regional Development Fund
  • introduce a new rural compliance and support rate, that has a mix of targeted and general rate funding.
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News that Te Waka, the regional economic development agency, is closing its doors at the end of June meant councillors were not required to make a funding decision. Instead, council staff were given until September to report back on work with key stakeholders to develop the appropriate structure to support regional economic development for the Waikato.

The council also noted that residual money from the Regional Development Fund would be available for regional economic development activities, subject to approval and following consultation with regional stakeholders.

During the meeting, councillors also considered options for funding the shortfall created through reduced NZ Transport Agency Waka Kotahi (NZTA) subsidy for the remaining two years of the Te Huia start-up service.

On Friday, 16 May, the NZTA announced that Te Huia would progressively receive reduced subsidy – from 75.5 per cent to 70 per cent in 2024/25 and 60 per cent in 2025/26.

Councillors heard that Te Huia targeted rates of $2.2 million had accumulated due to the postponed service launch, COVID-19 lockdowns, and delayed rollout of service improvements as a result of last year’s locomotive driver shortages.

As the funds had been collected from the council’s Hamilton ratepayers for Te Huia, the money could only be spent on the service, councillors were told.

In a vote of 12-2, councillors supported using the reserve funds as it would have no rating impact and would enable the service to complete its five-year trial.

“There will be many in our community waiting on tenterhooks for this decision and celebrating the continuation of Te Huia for at least the next two years,” Cr Storey said.

“It also give us the certainty we need to plan the next two years to achieve the targets set by the NZTA and demonstrate the value of a service connecting Waikato and Auckland.”

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