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Local Coalitions Urge Immediate Action To Safeguard Tauranga’s Democratic Future Ahead Of July Council Elections

A Call to Action: Empowering Tauranga's Future Governance

24th March 2024

As Tauranga faces crucial decisions about its future governance, the voice of the community has never been more important. The choices we make now will shape our city for years to come, highlighting the need for decision-making that is open, transparent, and accountable to everyone.

This is a critical time for the National-led coalition and Minister of Local Government Simeon Brown to keep the promises made by National MPs during the election campaign last year and give power back to the people through the soon-to-be-elected council.

Lobby for Good, Sustainable Bay of Plenty, Papamoa Ratepayers and Residents Association (PRRA), Mount Maunganui Ratepayers Residents & Retailers (MMRRR) and Grace Rd & Neighbourhood Residents Association (GRANRA) stand together alongside residents in urging Minister Brown to ask Tauranga’s Commissioners to act in a caretaker role until the Council elections in July.

Erika Harvey, the Director of Public Affairs for Lobby for Good, emphasised the critical need for the newly elected council to review and contribute to the current $4.75 billion Long Term Plan (LTP) for 2024-34. She pointed out that the consultation process was based on a previous version of the plan, which is now outdated.

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Harvey stressed the urgency of the situation, noting, "Without intervention from the Minister, there's a risk that the Commissioners might commit to long-term contracts. Such actions could significantly constrain the future council's capacity to fund vital infrastructure projects. This scenario poses a substantial financial risk, potentially tripling ratepayer debt to nearly $3 billion in the coming decade."

The need for this change is clear when we see delays to essential infrastructure, cuts to key transport projects, and big spending plans for non-essential infrastructure, including Te Manawataki o Te Papa Civic Centre, Tauranga Domain Stadium, and a new aquatic centre at Memorial Park. City centre projects alone add up to about $900 million over this year and the coming 10 years of the LTP – and total $1 billion if you include stage 1 of the Cameron Rd project.

Meanwhile, the Commissioners have just approved “rates-funded debt retirement in three waters of $320m phased in from 2027, to move toward a more sustainable debt-to-revenue ratio”. Glen Crowther from Sustainable BOP summed this up, saying “in other words, the Commissioners have gone against best practice and decided to effectively fund essential capital infrastructure directly from operating revenue (rates), so they can lock in their expensive non-essential projects”.

Crowther said “These big financial decisions are being made without community support and without the final say-so of an elected council. Meanwhile, important community assets like the Otūmoetai Pool are being closed down, with TCC refusing a mere $10m investment into one of the only Council facilities on the western side of the city. That decision highlights the big gap between what the council is doing and what the community really wants.”

There's a pressing need for a new way of governing that truly listens to and includes the community. The anger over proposed increases to user charges and the planned closure of Otūmoetai Pool show what happens when decisions are made without full community input. These decisions need to reflect what the community really needs and wants.

This new government needs to signal they are listening by Minister Brown stepping in and fulfilling their promise of bringing democracy back to Tauranga - before the Commissioners commit ratepayers to expensive contracts to build non-essential infrastructure. He needs to instruct the Commissioners to take on a caretaker role and ensure the new councillors can review and approve the LTP.

This step is crucial to ensure effective financial management and to rebuild trust between Tauranga's citizens and their leaders. This isn't just about following rules; it's about making sure our city's governance is transparent, inclusive, and truly representative of those who live here.

As we get closer to the council election in July, it's important that everyone involved—government MPs, candidates, and all of us in the community—have open and constructive talks about what we want for our city's future. Through transparent, inclusive, and accountable decision-making, we can make sure Tauranga's new Council can work well for the city and its residents.

In the spirit of empowerment and civic responsibility, we invite each resident of Tauranga to step forward and play a pivotal role in shaping our city's future. Your voice, your concerns, and your vision for our community matter more than ever.

To ensure that your voice is heard in the crucial discussions and decisions ahead, we encourage you to visit the Lobby for Good website. Here, you can sign up to receive updates, including a planned community meeting to discuss our collective hopes for Tauranga, and to learn more about how you can contribute to the decision-making process and ensure that the upcoming council elections reflect our community's desires and needs.

Let's unite to create a governance model that is truly by the people, for the people. Join us in making a difference— your involvement is the key to forging a path towards a more transparent, inclusive, and accountable future for Tauranga.

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