Councillors weigh up costs as plenty of bling is added to “no frills” budget

01 Jun 2021

It’s decision-making time for the Thames-Coromandel District’s councillors this week as they pore over what the public had to say about plans for the next decade of district development, determine how much ratepayers will be charged and what exactly they will get for their money.

The mayor and councillors are deliberating for two days on Tuesday and Wednesday (1 and 2 June) in an effort to finalise the Thames-Coromandel District Council Long Term Plan for 2021-2031 which will set budgets, project priorities, levels of service, rates and fees for the next 10 years.

On the table for consideration will be feedback from the 1,623 submissions received during the public consultation period in March and April, as well as the input from the 107 people who spoke over three days of hearings in May. Of the community board areas, Mercury Bay had the highest representation among submitters, with 634 people identifying the ward as the area they spend most of their time in. This was followed by the Whangamata with 161 submitters, Coromandel-Colville (147), Thames (58) and Tairua-Pauanui (24). However, 605 submitters did not indicate their main ward of residence.

Under its proposed “no frills” budget, council needs to spend $393m on 126 essential capital expenditure projects over the lifetime of the Long Term Plan. This includes renewal and maintenance of existing assets, critical investment in new water infrastructure and operating expenditure used to fund day-to-day activities and services. However, the public, which includes community boards, were also invited to select additional projects they would be willing to pay extra for from a lengthy wish list, creating a new shopping list of potential goodies that councillors will need to weigh-up against the issue of rising rates. Since the consultation period, a total of 48 new line items have been added to the draft list of capital projects for the members to consider, adding some considerable bling to the so-called “no frills” budget. 

Among the largest of these new additions in terms of scale and cost is the Whitianga Esplanade reclamation project which has price tag of almost $12m, the Coromandel Town bypass at a cost of $3.4m to ratepayers and the $3.4m extension of wastewater to Wharekaho.

Rates increases of at least 4.8 percent a year over the course of the plan were already flagged by TCDC, before any new spending arising from the consultation period and this week’s deliberations is taken into consideration, with the most significant rises - 7.1 percent, 7.7 percent and 7.7 percent - coming in the next three years. 

As a “rough estimate,” TCDC staff have warned councillors that each $780,000 in district wide operational spending will add one percent to rates, while capital spending of $7.8m has the same impact - those costs generally being loan funded and spread over a longer timeframe. The impacts of local spending vary widely between wards with $2.7m in capital investment causing a one percent increase in Mercury Bay and the far lesser amount of $750,000 having the same effect in Coromandel/Colville where fewer ratepayers share the cost burden.

On one of the specific questions the public was asked for input on, the purchase of The Dunes Matarangi golf course land, of those who submitted a response, 60 percent were in favour and 22 percent opposed. If councillors agree to include the purchase, the majority of the cost will be borne by Matarangi residents.  

On the question of the rubbish moloks at Whangapoua and Opito Bay, 60 percent of those who answered wanted them retained and 17 percent supported their removal. A further 21 percent didn’t know.

There was strong opposition to the introduction of new fees and charges, including any targeting visitors. An increase in boat trailer parking fees provoked the most comment with 64 percent of respondents resisting the plan that would see an annual permit fee jump from $80 or $90 to $200, and a casual day permit double from $10 to $20. Based on the response, TCDC staff are now recommending that no changes be made to boat trailer parking charges or wharf fees until a full investigation of actual costs associated with these activities is completed.

Following this week’s deliberations, council says any decisions made will be further analysed by staff for their impact on rates and the finalised Long Term Plan will be adopted on 30 June.

Pictured: The boat ramp on The Esplanade in Whitianga. Following consultation on TCDC’s Long Term Plan 2021-2031, council staff is recommending that no changes are made to boat trailer parking fees for the time being.