Rates increase: 8.9 per cent rise on the cards for Hamiltonians after 10-year plan debate wraps up - 11 Dec, 2020 04:31 PM By: Tom Rowland

Hamilton City councillors have sent the 10-year plan out for public consultation next year. Photo / Hamilton City Council.

Hamilton City councillors have sent the 10-year plan out for public consultation next year. Photo / Hamilton City Council.

An 8.9 per cent rates increase is on the cards for Hamilton ratepayers amidst the economic impact of Covid-19 across the city, with the city council forced to propose a large increase due to government-driven costs on the three-waters reform.

The council will seek feedback from the community next year on a proposal for a 4.4 per cent annual average general rates rise plus the potential for a new 4.5 per cent targeted rate to help meet government-imposed costs.

The proposals were finalised after two days of intense debate this week about the projects and services to be included in the draft 2021-31 long-term plan, and how those are funded.
Discussions highlighted huge concern from councillors about the increasing costs driven by central government for all councils to respond to new legislation, especially around water reform and compliance, climate change and enabling housing growth.

Councillors, led by Dave Macpherson and Ryan Hamilton, proposed ring-fencing and highlighting those costs using a targeted rate made up of:
• $109 (average, in the first year) per property to cover the increase in government-driven costs associated with three-waters reform.
• $31 (average in the first year, for five years only) per property to deliver changes to the District 

Plan imposed by new national planning standards.
Council staff had initially considered four targeted rates to enhance walking, cycling and public transport, support community attractions like Hamilton Zoo, Waikato Museum and Hamilton Gardens, restore the city's gullies and respond to climate change, and help fund projects in the central city and along the river.

Those work programmes are now proposed to be funded through general rates, including development at Hamilton Gardens.

Over the course of the two days, funding for a number of projects was either removed, reduced or deferred as councillors worked to reduce the impact on rates.

Proposed changes include:
• $2.395 million for a new jetty at Hamilton Gardens in years 1 and 2 pushed out to years 6 and 7
• $3.975m for an extension to the Hillcrest Library in years 1 to 5 moved to years 6 and 7
• $6.6m for a riverbank entrance to Waikato Museum goes from years 1 to 5 out to Year 7
• $4.212m previously budgeted to increase accessibility at Wellington Street beach reduced to $1.1m.

Also among the projects and funding streams put forward was the introduction of a $5 charge for parking at Hamilton Gardens, excluding for those with mobility permits. If approved this would be effective from January 1, 2022.

Only a handful of previously unfunded projects were brought into the draft long-term plan, including:
• $3m in 2021/22 for a roundabout at the intersection of Gordonton Road and Puketaha Rd
• $3.6m across the first seven years towards drainage and irrigation improvements for sports parks.
Both the general rates and targeted rate would increase by 4.9 per cent annually from year 2.

The plan sees council balancing its books (everyday revenues paying for everyday costs) in 2023-24 with its net-debt-to-revenue ratio reaching a maximum of 280 per cent in 2026-27.

The draft plan proposes resetting council's net-debt-to-revenue ratio limit from the current 230 per cent to align with the Local Government Funding Agency limit of 300 per cent for 2021/22, decreasing by 5 per cent each year until 2025/26 then remaining at 280 per cent.

Councillor Hamilton said it was a really good outcome for council. "It achieves what we want to in trying to be conservative and also hit aspects of our portfolios," Hamilton said. "What we are doing here is going to attract the attention of other councils as we are highlighting the pressure that is being put on us."

Councillor Mark Bunting said the 10-year plan was as upfront as they could possibly get. "I am happy to have the next part of consultation, I feel a lot more equipped than I did last term as this feels a lot more out there," Bunting said.

Hamilton mayor Paula Southgate said the discussions had been complex and challenging. Councillors were acutely aware proposed rates needed to be fair and affordable. But the reality was that the city was being faced with a deluge of costs, she said. "Hamilton City has been bold in making government costs very transparent to our community and we make no apology for that. I hope other councils take some heart from this because I know they are facing exactly the same issues," she said. "But we've put those costs out there, along with a proposed rates rise, and now it's time for the community to have their say. This whole budget has been guided by community aspirations and priorities and now we will hear from the community about what they think."

Chief executive Richard Briggs was clear that no final decisions have been made. "Councillors should be applauded for the constructive approach they maintained over two days, and for their resolute commitment to keeping the wellbeing of the community at the front of their mind while making decisions about what to put in and what to take out of the draft budget. "The draft long-term plan will now be subject to consultation with the public and I expect we will hear passionate views from our residents and community groups."


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