The Western Front
The Thames Coromandel District Council has just announced that it has reduced debt considerably and has been able to cut rates by 2.5 to 8 per cent.
It is maintaining full services, expanding the Whitianga town centre and continuing with services that other less proactive councils are cutting. The restructuring is described in the Organisation Review Decision of March 30 and is available on the TCDC website.
The positive approach was helped by the appointments of a new mayor and CEO.
The WBOP District Council and many other councils have resisted restructuring. They are still trying to survive by increasing debt or increasing rates but have just been given advice from Mr. Key to sell council assets. Christchurch City Council has refused. It is the second largest landholder in New Zealand after the Government and would prefer for the Government to give them more money rather than sell their family jewels to speed up the earthquake recovery.
Western Bay has large holdings, like the site for the new town in Omokoroa, which is obviously not needed now. The council’s reluctance to sell is understandable in the current market. WBOPDC stands to lose probably about 40 per cent of the money they invested in the land a few years ago. Asset sales might be bad news for councils’ pride but it is still cash and Mr. Key insists there is only so much ratepayers can afford to pay.
Rate increases vary around the country. The Auckland ratepayer I spoke to last week was upset with his rates going up from $1600 to $1800. When the Mayor of TCDC saw that rates would be 14 per cent over the cost of living within two years, he knew change was needed. At a Long Term Plan meeting in Katikati, the mayor of WBOPDC, Mr Paterson, acknowledged the same rate rise was chosen for Western Bay but no-one here seems to notice. This is bad news for the council if it ever decided to follow the TCDC model.
The model took 18 months of negotiation with residents of their towns and involved the setting up of a council manager in each town with support staff cooperating with the locals. The streamlined council structure includes task-centred home and away teams working with the residents making decisions at local level. WBOPDC’s first task before it could ever start this restructuring will have to be to start communicating and promoting ratepayer participation.
My guess is that they will take the easy way out and start asset sales. They will have to do something quickly because the new government regulations include increased government monitoring, supervision and even the appointment of commissioners for failing councils.