Wishing you and your family a very Merry Christmas and a safe and fun start to 2019
Hutt’s rates rises are lower than most
Nobody likes getting their rates bill but there is independent evidence that Hutt City Council is keeping its rates rises lower than most. The government has asked the Productivity Commission to run a major review of the cost pressures on local authorities and how New Zealand’s councils might fund growing infrastructure costs. The Commission recently published an issues report and one of the tables compared average annual growth in rates per capita across all 67 territorial NZ local authorities from 1996-2017 (i.e. not including regional councils).
Hutt City’s average – at less than 1% – was the second lowest in the country. Only Napier had a better record than us.
The three worst for rates growth were councils in Waitomo, Ashburton and Hauraki. For interest, our neighbouring councils in Porirua and Upper Hutt were 11th and 12th from the bottom respectively, and Wellington City was 8th from the bottom. If you want to check this out, click here(and go to page 26 of the report).
Insurance premium hikes add pressure
Debate on our 2019/20 Annual Plan gets underway in mid-January and the Council has already signalled it intends sticking with its policy of a rates rise matching the increase in the Local Government Cost Index (sitting at 1.8%), plus 1% for growth in the rating base. But it’s going to be a very tough budget round, as we are already up against our self-imposed debt levels.
We’ve all read that a recent engineer’s report has found the Naenae learners’ pool building is well under code for earthquake strength. We’ve made finding a fix for this a top priority but it won’t be cheap. We knew Councils’ insurance premiums were going to go up (just as home owners are finding with their own insurance) and we budgeted at extra $247,000 p.a. in our Long Term Plan for this. In fact our premiums for the next year are going up another $439,000 on top of this extra budget, to a total of $2.65m. Our brokers indicated we are fortunate to secure even this deal. With earthquakes in particular, underwriters are increasingly perceiving the Wellington market as extremely high risk, and many NZ insurers have now exited the Wellington market.
Council sets carbon zero target
Which leads quite nicely to the next topic – Climate Change. As (most!) nations around the world scramble to do their bit to try and keep global warming to less than 2 degrees C above pre-industrial times, councillors recently agreed to a target of Hutt City Council reducing its greenhouse gas emissions to net zero by no later than 2050.
We’re looking at replacing high carbon-emitting technology at our pools and buildings (mainly natural gas for heating), increasing the proportion of our vehicle fleet that is electric, and having more regard to climate change objectives when we make procurement decisions. All of these things add cost.
What’s even more difficult is dealing with our most significant greenhouse gas emitter – our landfills (both current, and closed off). Silverstream Landfill emitted 12,260 tonnes of greenhouse gases (mainly methane from decomposing material) in 2016/17 – and that’s despite our methane to electricity generation plant. We may have to look at diverting some of the green waste from that facility into a well-managed composting operation.
Beltway feedback please
You’re probably aware that to take advantage of government subsidies and grants, and the health and environmental advantages of cycling, your Council is investing in three major cycleways costing a total of $28m (including NZTA subsidies). The Hutt side of the Wainuiomata Hill Road asphalted cycling and pedestrian shared path is now open, with the other side due to be finished in May next year. The 1.25km path around Eastern Bays, which includes a seawall component, is providing design headaches and the estimated cost of $14.8m may be exceeded.
Less well known is the path that will come through the Central Ward, called The Beltway. This 16km off-road shared path will connect residential areas to workplaces and employment hubs, Hutt Hospital, schools, the CBD and shopping areas. The Beltway will link the Wainuiomata Hill cycleway from Seaview through and eastern spine to meet the Rimutaka cycle trail at Taita. A lot of thought is currently going into how to connect the Beltway with our CBD and the other paths. Should we build cycle lanes down Waterloo or Knights Rd, for example? There are also questions around removal of trees currently growing along the railway corridor. If you want to know more about this project, and have your say, click here.
On-line voting trial delayed
Hutt, and councils around New Zealand, will be sticking with postal voting for next year’s election. Our Council had looked at joining a trial for online voting, with many people feeling that might be a way of increasing turnout, especially of young people. Unfortunately, it was looking increasingly likely that proponents of the trial might run out of time to design, build and test a robust enough system. It would have cost the Hutt $500,000 to participate in the trial, against the $353,000 cost of a postal vote election. Councillors decided any move to on-line voting would have to wait until the 2022 election.
Queensgate and Waterloo consents
On the resource consent front, Council has granted permission to Queensgate for the reconstruction and reconfiguration of the (demolished) parking building and cinema complex in a similar form to that previously approved. Officers are assessing an application for consent to construct a three-storey retail and apartment building at 41 Birch St, Waterloo. This is the kind of development around suburban shopping centres and transport hubs that Council is looking to encourage with Plan Change 43 – but allowing three storey buildings in ordinary residential streets is a controversial move. A hearing on Plan Change 43 is due to be held next year.
WoF, registration infringements on the rise
Speaking of controversial – opinion is divided about our parking wardens issuing tickets for no warrant, registration and/or dangerous tyres as they go about monitoring of parking compliance. Some people see this as no more than a revenue gathering exercise by council; others agree with Council’s view that there is a duty of care to keep unsafe vehicles off our streets. Wherever you sit on that argument, it certainly will pay to keep an eye on when your WoF and registration expires. There has been a steady increase in the number of infringements issued in the three months till the end of November – at least 150 more tickets for these infringements compared to the same time last year. With the introduction of pay by plate, it seems our wardens have a little more time to focus on this type of offence.
Congratulations to our city’s top academic students, who at a ceremony in Council Chambers earlier this month were presented with Mayoral Scholarships.
As with any topic in this newsletter, I’m keen to hear your views – email email@example.com