BOP Regional Councillor
The sword of reform is hanging above local government’s head.
The government has an 8-point plan and intends to legislate for the changes starting later this year. I think the plan is like the Curates egg - good in parts.
I think the need to examine costs and funding of infrastructure and the de-cluttering of the regulatory framework is good - the rest I think needn’t happen.
The proposed changes to the purpose of local government are a fettering of local government’s discretion. The wise application of discretion is part and parcel of the local representative model. There are always situations where there are wide ranging views on funding needs and the open robust decision-making processes provide local accountability.
Take for example the current proposal that the regional council and TECT fund the new Tauranga-based tertiary project. The government is saying local government shouldn’t do things government does – e.g. tertiary education. Only problem is the government isn’t funding more capital for tertiary. So where does this project fit?
I think the threat of reform provides a great opportunity for the Bay to work out what form of local government is in its best interests. It’s easy to get caught up in the slip stream of the Auckland juggernaut but we need to keep Brand BOP and local representative decision-making top priority. The starting point shouldn’t be what structure is best but rather how can local government do better across the Bay. Take waste disposal for example. It costs mega to transport waste. Why can’t we have a BOP Waste Strategy that looks at more cost-effective and eco-friendly waste disposal? Opportunities to invest in new initiatives that could save money and produce economic benefits in eco-friendly product and intellectual property??
There are three key areas related to the regional council’s finances that are top of mind to the future of good local government. They are:
1. The Port Company shareholding.
2. The Regional Infrastructure Fund.
3. The rating regime and consequences.
Space doesn’t allow much on these matters but they are really important.
The regional council has a range of investments and shareholding, the largest of which relates to the Port of Tauranga. The value of this is $650m. Council also raised $200m by a Preferential Share issuance so net gains could be applied to regional infrastructure. There is of course a requirement to pay a dividend to the PPS holders. As the fund is spent there is a reduced investment return to the council. What all of this means is that the regional council is fortunate to have investment income to spend across the region. What the various sub regions - including Tauranga and the Western BOP - need is to feel that the decision-making is fair and that they are getting their fair share. This need for fairness is complicated by the rating system, which collects both targeted and general rates. Targeted rates are those where there are deemed to be area specific benefits and include rates collected for the Rotorua lakes, public transport etc.
For the next 10 year plan, council is proposing changes to the ratios of the targeted rates collected on an area specific verses a general basis .That does impact on amounts collected from each sub-region and this will be a major feature of the 10 year plan discussions. It’s easy for the Western BOP to think that a lot of resource is going Rotorua’s way for the lakes clean up. It is, but a large part of the cost is shared with government. The regional council is proposing a new Tauranga Harbour programme to preserve and enhance the harbour; continuing to support the Coast Care work-investing to re-divert the Kaituna River; working on mangrove options; continuing with dune and estuary restoration; carrying on with Rena related recovery work; continuing navigation safety work etc. Is this enough? Should it be done? All of this will be the subject of good discussion and debate over the next month or so. The critical thing is being open, responsive and responsible .That’s what local government should be about.