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Waikato District Council proposes to push pause on 2024-2034 Long Term Plan

Financial planning challenges have prompted Waikato District Council staff to recommend that Council pause work on the 2024-2034 Long Term Plan (LTP) and switch to an ‘enhanced Annual Plan’ for the 2024/25 financial year.

Waikato District Council chief executive Gavin Ion says “significant policy changes” driven by central government, coupled with a lack of clarity around funding and affordability issues have made it impractical to accurately plan the next 10 years of budgets and work programmes.

Timeframes also make it difficult to provide enough time for the community to be consulted thoroughly.

The government passed the Water Service Act Repeal Bill on 16 February 2024. With the bill, the council needs to implement Local Water Done Well in a two-stage approach, with the initial bill establishing the framework and transitional arrangements for the new water services system, to be passed by mid-2024. A second bill will provide for the long-term replacement regime and will be introduced in December 2024, enacted by mid-2025.

To assist councils in including water services in their LTPs, one option in the legislation is for councils to defer their LTP by 12 months and instead prepare an 'enhanced annual plan’ for the 2024/25 financial year. The LTP would become a 2025-2034 LTP.

“After careful consideration, we’ve decided to propose an enhanced Annual Plan at Council’s meeting on 28 February 2024,” Ion explains.

“Government’s water infrastructure policy and affordability implications locally need to be resolved. We also need a better understanding of the level of Waka Kotahi subsidies that will be secured for the district's roading programme, which is about a third of our budget, with 51 per cent of our transportation funding coming from central government,” he explains.

He says the move to an annual plan is the only option for the district at this point in time.

“Despite it being the only option, it provides staff, the Mayor and councillors with more time to engage with our communities to ensure we deliver the services, activities, and projects they need and want to pay for."

He emphasises that none of Council’s work to date on the LTP goes to waste.

“We ‘re simply proposing to pause work for now and change our process while getting more certainty around ‘Local Water Done Well’ and the other issues mentioned.

“The wellbeing of our communities is our top priority, and proposing an enhanced Annual Plan process, even though there will still be tough decisions to make on rate increases, ensures the best long-term outcomes for our communities.”