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Local Government

Enough is enough says Chair 24+ years of waiting for basic infrastructure

As Chair of the Wharekaho and Simpson’s Beach Ratepayers’ Association, I hope I can be forgiven for examining TCDC’s draft LTP 2024-2034 through the lens of the Wharekaho community. Although the draft LTP is styled as “Tackling the Future Head On” and “Just the Essentials,” a closer examination reveals a very different story.
 |  Murray Ward  | 

Our community is looking for the LTP to address our

(1) lack of wastewater reticulation;

(2) lack of safe drinking water reticulation;

(3) lack of safe footpaths along SH25; and

(4) inadequate stormwater management at or about the Tohetea Stream.

It is beyond dispute that providing systems for wastewater, stormwater, drinking water, and safe footpaths is a core business for any local authority in New Zealand.

TCDC acknowledged this in its 1999/2000 “Future Directions” paper. It invited community input by 31 January 2000. The paper stated (among other things) that TCDC saw its role as:

“Ensuring the provision and excellent delivery of community infrastructure services. These include roading, water and wastewater facilities. Council will invest in the infrastructure to meet today’s demand while also planning and investing for future requirements.”

Twenty-four years later, we still await TCDC to fulfil its role!

That role dovetails neatly with the very purpose of local government in New Zealand as set out in the Local Government Act 2002, i.e.:

“… to enable democratic local decision-making and action by, and on behalf of, communities and to promote their social, economic, environmental, and cultural well-being in the present and for the future.”

In our community’s view, wastewater, stormwater, drinking water services, and safe footpaths could not be more essential to our well-being. On social, environmental, and cultural grounds alone, these services should be at the forefront of any local authority’s expenditure list, ahead of many other things TCDC seeks to spend its funds on.

In its 2018-2028 LTP, TCDC said:

“The rise in national standards around drinking water supplies and wastewater disposal continues to be a focus, and we think it’s probably only a matter of time before councils will be required to take responsibility for the drinking water and wastewater disposal of all settlements in their district. We also know that community water supplies are coming under pressure…… and that individual property wastewater systems have a detrimental effect on waterways…. From many angles, this looks like a future cost for our council to pick up.

We need to get ahead of this likelihood and plan for what infrastructure may be required to transition many of our communities to a more reliable source of drinking water and a more environmentally responsible form of wastewater treatment and disposal.”

It can be readily established that the original scheme for Whitianga’s wastewater system 30 or so years ago included Wharekaho. However, Wharekaho was ultimately removed from the scheme (presumably to save cost). All subsequent attempts to have Wharekaho provided with a wastewater system have been met with weasel words (ref. above). A preliminary investigation into the viability of providing wastewater and water supply services to Wharekaho confirmed its viability. So, why has it not happened?

Should our community be satisfied that TCDC has included $3,162,000 for wastewater services and $3,102,000 for water services from 1 July 2026 to 30 June 2030 in the draft LTP capital expenditure budget? Comparing this proposal with the present 2021/31 LTP, TCDC are, without prior advice or consultation, proposing to delay wastewater services by one year and water services by three years.

The cynic in me notes that capital expenditure on wastewater and water services to Wharekaho would not ramp up under the proposed LTP until 1 July 2027. It follows the expenditure would have to survive another LTP review in three years to come to fruition.

Compared with some of the proposed capital expenditure items listed in the draft LTP (see below), the cost of reticulating wastewater and water services is peanuts. TCDC’s desire to spread the expenditure on wastewater and water services to our community over four years is puzzling. One would have thought the combined projects could be constructed within one year, deriving economies of scale in project implementation!

Regular flooding of SH25 and adjoining properties at and about the one-lane bridge over the Tohetea Stream has been an ongoing problem for those affected for longer than is reasonable. Many laypeople have identified the bridge itself as part of the problem, but getting NZTA, WRC, or TCDC to do anything about it is an exercise of frustration. The latest advice from NZTA is that the bridge is structurally sound and that considerable work has been done to identify longer interventions to improve resiliency for state highways. However, those interventions have not been funded. To my way of thinking, that is a facile response and simply more weasel words.

Our community has long agitated for a safe footpath constructed along SH25 through Wharekaho. TCDC has constantly avoided the issue, stating the State Highway status of the road means the issue is one for NZTA to address. The previous Community Board listed footpaths at Wharekaho as a “top priority”. Why can no progress on the issue be achieved? Our community believes it is for TCDC to prioritise the construction of a footpath through Wharekaho and then seek funding from NZTA. That coincides with the (apparent) view of NZTA, too. Suffice it to say I have identified no capital expenditure in TCDC proposed 2024/34 LTP earmarked for footpaths at Wharekaho.

I now turn to some of the questionable capital expenditure items listed in TCDC 2024/34 proposed LTP;

• $8,932,000 for refurbishing TCDC Thames HQ and upgrading TCDC’s two buildings in Thames. No consideration appears to have been given to transferring TCDC’s HQ to a new building on land already owned in Whitianga—a growing town and tourist destination, as opposed to a shrinking Thames, which is not a tourist destination and, in many senses, by some of us, appears to be moribund.

• $78,158,000 for Thames Coastal Protection. An incredible sum of money for what some would say is a dubious benefit.

• $11,708,000 for Thames Albert Street stormwater improvements. That sort of money would resolve the stormwater issues at the Tohetea Stream with money left over.

• $4,803,000 for Thames Pollen Street redevelopment infrastructure upgrade.

• $19,445,000 for Thames South water improvements.

• $39,971,000 for Thames sub-regional aquatic facility – a massive amount for a swimming pool.

Am I cynical in identifying a bias towards expenditure for the benefit of Thames?

Wait, it gets better:

• $4,400,000 for “Investing in connected communities” (corporate speak for social services). Is this genuinely core business for a local authority and, therefore, “essential”? I’d argue it is the central government’s job, not that of a local authority.

• $6,800,000 for Spatial planning. Again, it is hardly an “essential” expenditure.

• $12,570,000 for Whitianga Esplanade redevelopment. Is this an “essential” or a “nice to have”?

Compared to these proposed expenditure items, $6,262,000 to reticulate our community with wastewater and water services is simply peanuts.

Examining this draft LTP leads to the question of rates and the proposed increases. TCDC’s glossy brochure states that Mercury Bay residential ratepayers can look forward to an average rate increase of 16.3%, while industrial and commercial ratepayers are up for an average increase of 9.5%.

Rates are deductible for tax purposes for industrial and commercial ratepayers, whereas they are not for residential ratepayers. One wonders why more of the burden of increases is not laid on industrial and commercial ratepayers.

In the Thames and Tairua-Pauanui Wards, rate increases for residential ratepayers, percentage-wise, are below those of industrial and commercial ratepayers, significantly in the case of Thames. Is that another bias in favour of Thames?

discontent

There is widespread discontent with TCDC amongst our community for the level of rates imposed on us compared to the perceived benefits.

General rates do not cover any wastewater or water services. There is precious little stormwater management. Only one minimal footpath, but none where a safe footpath is most needed. Rubbish services are separately charged. Some foreshore dune restoration and planting is funded, but not everyone has a beachfront property that needs such protection.

Separate from the new Wharekaho subdivision, TCDC is raking in well over $500,000 p.a. in rates revenue from our community and spending nothing like that sum for the benefit of our community. The angst is high and genuine to the extent that a rates revolt is in the wind.

NO MORE EXCUSES

Our Wharekaho community believes TCDC’s proposed “Just the Essentials” budget is a short-term solution to a long-term problem. It proposes to defer to tomorrow what should be done today. TCDC’s debt is well within limits, so there is adequate headroom for further borrowing to fund infrastructure projects. We invite TCDC to do just that.

Wharekaho does not want political expediency from Councillors’ eying the next local body elections. Nor does it want any more excuses. Wharekaho has had excuses for the past 30 or 40 years. It needs action. Now!