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Community Feedback Drives Long-Term Plan Decisions

Hamilton City Council’s most challenging and complex Long-Term Plan has crossed its penultimate hurdle.

After three days of deliberations, budgets, plans and rates for the next 10 years have been determined. Council has landed on a 16.5% rates increase in 2024/25 ($9 a week for a median value residential property), with the rates increase reducing by about 1% annually over the following four years (15.5%, 14.6%, 13.5%, 12.5%).

Hamilton Mayor Paula Southgate said:

“Together, Council has made some of the toughest decisions we’ve ever had to make in our political careers to strike the right balance for our city. We have responded to residents’ primary concerns to soften rates, will continue to care for our city and community, now and in the future, and will balance our books in three years.”

In response to strong community feedback through Council’s engagement on the draft 2024-34 Long-Term Plan, proposed cuts to funding for community services grants, Hamilton and Waikato Tourism, and event sponsorship have been reversed.

In addition, the Meteor and Clarence Street theatres have been given certainty of $50,000 of funding each over the next three years, from existing budgets.

“Community support and wellbeing is more crucial than ever, so a little investment on our behalf goes a long way, to ensure these groups continue to support those most in need,” said Mayor Southgate.

“These groups also bring strong economic benefits to our city, and make our city a better and more vibrant place, through cultural, art and sporting events.”

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The cuts to reduce rates include deferring nearly $75 million that would go towards a new wastewater treatment plant, reducing the renewals budget by $27.5 million in the first three years, and removing $10 million of funding for strategic land acquisition.

Council has sought to reprioritise $31.5 million of funding for a walking and cycling bridge across the Waikato River in the central city towards critical water infrastructure.

The plan will still see Council balance its books (meet everyday costs from everyday revenue) annually from 2026/27 and maintain a 5% buffer within its debt-to-revenue limit every year.

“Residents asked us to bring the rates down now. Every little bit helps but I acknowledge this is still far from ideal. There are unfortunately no magic solutions to the financial pressures that we are facing, along with households, businesses and councils nationwide. But we have done our very best to turn over every stone for savings, without taking our city backwards.”

Council has resolved to reduce the proposed $104 million in savings over the 10 years on personnel that would have likely seen cuts to community services. Instead, savings of $33 million over the 10 years will be found through personnel reductions to Council’s back-office functions and cuts to consultant budgets.

These reductions will be brought forward, and implemented over the next year, with full savings from 2025/26.

“Council has reached a reasonable compromise to deliver a leaner organisation, without undermining the services that the community wants, needs and expects.”

Shoppers in the central city will now get free on-street parking for another two years, as opposed to another six months in the proposed plan.

The two-hour free parking trial was proposed to end in January. Instead, the two hours of free on-street parking will be reduced to one hour in October, until July 2026.

“Deputy Mayor O’Leary and I put forward this motion, in response to strong advocacy from central city businesses.

“We have a wonderful city and we want our businesses to flourish. I believe this decision balances support for businesses in the central city, by encouraging a higher turnover of shoppers, while reducing further pressure on residents.”

Council will not introduce targeted rates for community infrastructure or extreme weather and community resilience, which were not supported by the community through consultation.

Payment for three-yearly pool safety inspections will be made via an annual targeted rate, applied to properties with a private swimming pool, which was supported by submitters.

The Long-Term Plan will come back to Council for formal adoption on 4 July.

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