Navigating Uncertainties: Council Hits Pause on Long Term Spending Plan


Waikato District Council (WDC) recently announced that instead of their usual 10-year Long-Term Plan (LTP) they have opted to switch to an ‘enhanced Annual Plan’ for the 2024/25 financial year. Local councillor Lisa Thomson is in the studio to shed light on the challenges faced by Waikato District Council as they hit pause on their LTP.

Lisa says that significant policy changes initiated by the central government, combined with uncertainties surrounding funding and affordability, have rendered it impractical to forecast budgets and work programmes for the next decade.

“There's so many things that are up in the air that makes it really challenging for us and the council because we don't want to go out with an LTP with rates or forecasts that are incorrect,” said Lisa.

A significant point of contention arises from the government's delayed policy statement on transport funding, leaving local councils like theirs in the dark about subsidy levels and complicating budget forecasts. Lisa says that funding confirmations from Waka Kotahi won’t be available until September - much too late for the LTP. 

Lisa describes this funding as ‘really critical’ for council budget planning, given that Waka Kotahi funding constitutes approximately one-third of the council's total budget.

Three Waters 

Watercare has recently announced their departure from the Council’s contracts in 2026, signalling significant changes in water management for our district. 

Under the contract, Watercare's expertise in providing Three Waters provisions guaranteed that the council received the necessary resources and knowledge to provide support for water services in the district through services like infrastructure construction, research and specialised consultation.

WDC are now exploring various possibilities, including in-house delivery through a council-controlled organisation, wholly or partially owned by the council. Another option is delivery by another local authority or a different entity altogether. 

“We will have to undertake a review of any services that they are delivering under this contract. It significantly impacts the future planning for us as a council but it doesn't impact on the work that's been undertaken already for example, our Raglan wastewater upgrade - that is still on track.”

With the raft of changes coming through from the central government around their Local Water Done Well programme,  Lisa raises concerns about the financial burden on local councils and uncertainty around central government support in managing three waters—potable water, wastewater, and stormwater.

“If we look at the cost of the upgrade of the Raglan wastewater treatment plant, that's $26 million worth of work. And then if we're looking at the option of land based treatments, the land base disposal, that's another huge burden on the ratepayer,” says Lisa indicating that many councils will be unable to fund these critical infrastructure upgrades in their district.

Without intervention from the central government, Lisa says that rate payers could see their rates increase by thousands of dollars.

Coincidentally, Whakatane District Council announced this week that they would begin “reducing levels of service for wastewater” in 3 years time because they simply don't have the capacity to raise the cash to keep investing in wastewater.

Community Involvement in Planning

In Te Hutewai, a recent development application for a 400-house subdivision includes a provision for a structure plan for the area. This plan has stirred debate among developers regarding the placement of a potential bypass road linking Te Hutewai to SH23, prompting discussions on the level of community participation in local planning and development projects.

Lisa suggests that ideally, the community would have a voice in the decision-making process. However, due to the intricate interplay of land ownership, planning regulations, and infrastructure requirements, it's challenging for ordinary community members to participate effectively in the process.

She explains that such issues can pose challenges because they often involve legal planning terminology tailored to the district plan and any submissions must include evidence that aligns with the planning direction and processes outlined in these documents.

Lisa stresses the importance of collaboration between community members, councils and community boards to advocate for well-planned development initiatives and emphasises the need for a coordinated strategic approach rather than piecemeal individual attempts to convince councils of the need for better planning.

Harbour Leasehold Properties

Regarding concerns about the local business SWOP leaving the community due to an increase in rent, Lisa explains that the council does not have authority to regulate landlords' pricing of their properties but acknowledges SWOP’s departure - adding that they will be missed.

The council leases numerous commercial properties under the Harbour Board Lease, with lots spanning from the corner where Wyld Cafe is situated, down to Wi Neera St. These properties are leased to landlords at commercial market rates in perpetuity  with leaseholders maintaining a right to renewal. The landlords then rent individual shops to business owners.

Revenues generated from these leases are reinvested into the Raglan community for the upkeep of areas within the harbour board jurisdiction, such as the recently upgraded walkway. Lisa also mentions that these leases are perpetual on Māori Land, which is a separate issue entirely.

While Waitangi Day has been and gone, Lisa encourages the community to attend the Waitangi Exhibition which will be running at the Old School Arts Centre every day from 12-28 March, 10am-2pm. The exhibition features information about Te Tiriti o Waitangi, its local context and local signatories as well as the kotahitanga korowai that was created during Waitangi Day back in February,