Roading, bridges deficit hits rates

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    A MILLION-DOLLAR shortfall in funding for the Southland District Council’s (SDC) roading and bridges programme will not result in an immediate rates increase.

    Ratepayers could face bigger bills and the closure of bridges throughout the next decade.

    Last week, Southland District Mayor Gary Tong said he was frustrated at a NZ Transport Agency decision to fund only 85% of what had been requested for roading and bridge programmes for the first three years of the council’s long-term plan (LTP).

    As the transport agency funded 52% of the roading budget, the SDC was facing a shortfall of $15 million — about $7.5 million from NZTA plus $7.5 million from SDC — for the first triennium of its proposed LTP.

    At a finance and assurance committee meeting yesterday, councillors discussed how to cope with this shortfall.

    After strong feedback from the community, voicing concerns about the proposed rates increase, SDC staff recommended a reduction on the rise for the next three years.

    The proposed average rates increase for the triennium was 10.15%, 10.76% and 5.66%, respectively — now it was set at 9.38%, 8.31% and 5.75%.

    The hit would now be spread over the remaining years of the plan — ratepayers would expect a bigger increase for 2024-25 of 9.11% (against the proposed 6.7%) and for 2025-26 of 7.02% (against the proposed 5.5%).

    Cr Don Byer showed concern about this, saying ratepayers already considered the  proposed increase ‘‘unbearable’’, while Mr Tong highlighted the district had one of the
    largest roading infrastructures in the country, but fewer ratepayers.

    SDC group manager services and assets Matt Russell explained to councillors the
    proposed action plan.

    The level of services proposed in the LTP would be kept, however the road and bridges
    programme would be delayed and spread out.

    SDC had about 160 bridges to be replaced and it was aiming to ramp up its programmes in the next three years.

    To do that, it had initially budgeted $3.5 million yearly but, with the shortfall, would spend $2.5 million annually.

    The proposed accelerated roading programme would also be scaled back for the same levels as previous years.

    SDC staff designed the strategy with the hope NZTA would return the same level of funding in 2024.

    Audit NZ director Dereck Ollsson showed concern about this, saying sufficient funds might be not be available to pay for the planned boost in capital projects and maintenance costs in years four to 10 of the LTP, saying it had a ‘‘high risk’’ of being incorrect.

    SDC would keep having conversations with the Government to highlight the importance of its capital programme with the aim of getting the funding required.

    After the meeting, Mr Russell told the Southland Express: ‘‘Ultimately over the 10-year period, we will be replacing the same number of bridges and the level of services will continue to be the same.’’

    Councillors expected the audit process would end on June 25.

    They would consider the final report and adopt the long-term plan on June 29.

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