The Western Front
On Wednesday, at the Long Term Plan submissions, I was accused by a councillor of saying nice things about the council.
I admit that I am often judgmental over some council decisions but, even then, I do try to suggest ways of minimising damage from their unwise decisions. The 451 page LTP document was widely attacked because very few were able to read or understand it. I did eventually recognise that the layout and content of the document had been prescribed by the Government. Apparently it used fewer words than the last plan and had more pictures, but it was still too big and too late. I have to admit I wouldn’t have liked the task of assembling the beast and I had to compliment the CEO on the day.
I can also report that a number of ratepayers and groups that I have helped with their submissions have been impressed by the new openness shown by council in allowing discussion and that the councillors were actually listening.
Whether we made any impression or not though we will soon learn from the council responses. The Waihi Beach submission was a textbook analysis and closely followed the request by the council for people to prune their project lists.
The speaker for the Waihi Beach was precise. He had some difficulty on some items because there was no adequate project description but the savings he offered the board were significant. Unfortunately, because he had gone over the allocated 10 minutes there was no time was allowed for discussion. Of all the submissions, that one deserved more latitude and respect.
Just about every other organisation could only concentrate on one or two topics that each considered the most significant. The end result was a mish mash of contrasting opinions that must have provided very little direction for the councillors. One person from Omokoroa celebrated the plan for new walkways while another analysed the whole lot and discovered that some walkways were totally unnecessary. He calculated that the council could save themselves $3.6m by deferring this list of new walkways until council could work out what they were for or where they were going and who was going to maintain them.
At an earlier meeting, the CEO referred to the savings that might be made through the submissions as only the rats and mice of the budget. Most submitters could only express their concern over the larger issues of council debt and the rates increase but few had enough knowledge to offer any help with these larger issues. The Katikati Focus team did their homework on other councils over the course of the week and asked for a council restructuring in line with the Government’s new initiatives. Other councils are now showing significant savings but WBOPDC does nor seem to be paying attention. The Thames Coromandel Council’s reorganisation is already indicating savings of over $17m.
Bay of Plenty residents are not recognising their councils’ larger problems yet. Taupo residents marched down their main street protesting at rate increases identical to those in Western Bay. Auckland residents are challenging their Mayor for his proposed rate increases that are only half that of those suggested for Western Bay and are demanding that the increase be kept down to the CPI. If our weak response to rates increases is any indication, we are in trouble and need a new approach, a new council or a new council structure. Councils might be happy at the moment because they are not being challenged. Maybe we need to shake their trees a little more.