Tough decisions ahead - 21/03/2005by Mayor Michael Laws
All over the country, local bodies are re-discovering the harsh reality of governance. And that they have too little money for too many expectations. As they piece together their draft annual plans, some councils are reaching horrendous conclusions. That it is going to take double-digit rate increases to achieve their immediate goal.
Fortunately, we've already settled that debate in Wanganui. And in the most democratic manner possible – by an election. Last October's results delivered a good majority of councillors who campaigned on a nil rates increase. That policy was recently confirmed by Council itself.
Readers will know that I was not impressed by the number of governance issues that were let slide by our previous Council. Some have already been made public – the evisceration of $18 million of forestry returns, the Sarjeant extension's "missing million" and the late filing of the annual report. Sadly, there are other outstanding issues that this new Council still requires to address.
Drafting the Annual Plan
Which has a direct input upon what Council can spend its money on this coming year – and what it can't. I think most Wanganui residents would agree that a council's primary responsibility is to attend to the basics – roads, rubbish, water and sewage. After that, it is a case of establishing priorities – and where you draw the funding line.
To that end, Council is currently involved in drawing up its draft annual plan. Inevitably it will mean restrictions in certain areas of Council activity. My strong view is that such frugality must start at home. Within Council itself.
An indication of how difficult that process will be was provided by Friday's all day meeting on community contracts. These are essentially grants that the Council makes on your behalf to various groups and agencies working in the community.
I can't say that it's the most professional structure within which to make such decisions. I wanted to review and clarify the criteria before monies were disbursed and there seems a general consensus that we must do so. However, Council decided to proceed with the current system this year and have the new system in place for the next … and that's fair enough.
Council has capped funding at $468,000 this year and allocates within three broad categories – economic development, community development, and sport, culture and recreation. For every dollar we have to spend, three dollars has been requested. So not everybody is going to be happy.
That said, a surprising unanimity pervaded hearings on Friday. Councillors worked hard and did a good job and my thanks for their efforts. We have another meeting yet before the final allocations are completed.
Meet the Mayor – Suburban Meetings
Each month I host a Mayoral Forum at the Concert Chamber to highlight Council's work and to allow you to ask questions of Council and myself.
These have been both fruitful and entertaining – the SOS protestors enlivening a couple and providing for some keen verbal jousting. However, there also exists a need for me to hold suburban meetings at times that best fit constituents. A noon weekday does not suit all.
Over the next few months I will be hosting night-time meetings (at 7pm) in your suburb and details will soon be released. Other councillors – including regional representatives – will also be available, so do come and have your say.
Code of Conduct Hearings
I know that these are a dreadful waste of Council's time and ratepayers' money, but it is a process that we must go through. The Code of Conduct itself is grossly deficient and will be reviewed. That said, it is currently being abused by a few malcontents. Too bad they don't waste their own money instead.
There has been considerable speculation around town as to the future of Cooks Gardens and its trust board. An officials' report has been made available to all councillors and trust board members, and this poses options for the future management of this outstanding facility.
There are some complex issues that Council needs to address and we are driven by just two objectives. First, to deliver an outcome that best matches the needs of the wider Wanganui community. And, second, to safeguard ratepayers' money.
I am greatly heartened by the attitude of Cooks' current chairman Gerald McDouall and I'm sure the right solution will be found.
Finally, the Easter weekend is almost upon us. I hope that it will be an enjoyable and restful family time for you. I'm looking forward to my family gathering for Lucy's baptism on Easter Monday. She is three months now. And very much the light of her father's life.