Mayor John Leggett says his Council’s planning for the next decade must address the priorities of environment, district infrastructure and economic development.
Councillors have reviewed draft budgets as part of the preparation of its 2018-28 Long Term Plan, which shows how Council projects will be funded for the decade ahead.
The draft budget projects average annual rate increases of between 2.07% and 5.38% (excluding the impact of the Flaxbourne Irrigation Scheme) over the next ten years with an increase in the rates take for the 2018-19 year at 4.90%.
“These are not final figures as we’re at the start of a process; a consultation document will be available and ratepayers will have the chance to tell us what they think before we firm up the budgets,” said Mr Leggett.
The Mayor said essential services were driving the increases in capital spending; the roading, water and sewerage networks, community facilities and flood protection.
“We’re concentrating on the core services and we’re using our reserve funds wherever possible so there’s little scope for the non-essentials but we’re trying to ensure every dollar we’re spending will deliver a service or create a benefit for ratepayers.”
However Mr Leggett said there was no doubt that Council had to be prepared to meet new government-imposed national standards for the environment and public health.
More resource would be allocated to environmental science to enable Council to deliver greater environmental management and monitoring.
“We have had a clear message from the public that more emphasis is needed to protect biodiversity and with a new Marlborough Environment Plan on the way and we need to be able to fulfil its aspirations for managing Marlborough’s natural and physical resources,” he said.
“Fortunately this Council made the right decision a term ago to identify water as a key priority. We’ve been spending some large sums upgrading our water supplies and that decision has been vindicated by what we’ve seen happen in Havelock North.”
Council is proposing to spend 40% of its capital expenditure budget on water and sewerage services over the next 10 years.
The Mayor says while the Kaikoura earthquake had ‘delivered a new reality’ for council and ratepayers, and it was still hoped that central government would contribute more funding, there were repairs that could not be avoided.
“The earthquake has left us no real choice about some matters; we know, for example, we have a damaged stormwater and sewerage system that requires a long-term repair programme in the interest of maintaining our water quality.”
However he said Council had been prepared with a sound Emergency Events Reserve and part of the damaged network already earmarked and funded for upgrades.
“We will have to concentrate on rebuilding our disaster recovery reserves but the good news is that we won’t have to resort to rates rises to boost these reserves as some councils have had to do,” said the Mayor.
Provision for future funding for the proposed coastal cycle trail and for a new Blenheim Library are both included in the LTP.
Councillors also favour a move to raise their self-imposed financial discipline of a ‘debt cap’, from the existing $100M figure to $140M, to take account of inflation and the demands to meet higher standards imposed as a consequence of the earthquake and public health requirements.
The 2018-28 Long Term Plan Consultation Document is due to be adopted by Council on Thursday 5 April. Submissions will be invited from the public then with the deadline for submissions, Friday 11 May.