Council working on ‘plan B’

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THE Southland District Council (SDC) will immediately start working on a “plan B” following an unexpected budget shortfall.

On Tuesday, councillors adopted its long-term plan (LTP) which had budgeted $458 million on capital projects during the next 10 years.

That set a basic rates increase across the district of 9.38%, a reduction from the 10.15% originally proposed.

The adoption was delayed after Waka Kotahi NZ Transport Agency’s (NZTA) announcement it would only fund $85 million, or 85%, of what had been requested for roading and bridge programmes for the first three years of the plan.

SDC staff then had to review the plan and decided to spread it over years four to 10 of its capital programme.

Although SDC has been granted less funding from the transport agency than sought, it was still allocated more than it received in its previous three-yearly funding cycle.

Because of that, the level of services proposed in the LTP would be kept, but the road and bridges programme would be cut back and delayed.

SDC has 161 bridges which need to be replaced in the next decade.

During the council meeting on Tuesday, Cr Karyn Owen said although SDC did not have much choice given the lateness of the funding, she would like to see council thinking forward.

She wanted her colleagues to start discussions now about a possible plan B in case of another shortfall for the next long-term plan.

“I think that [in] four years’ time, we shouldn’t just be hoping that they’re [the NZ Transport Agency] going to come to the party with their share because the reality is that might not happen again and we could be in the exactly same situation again.”

Southland District Mayor Gary Tong agreed and said discussions would start #0later this week.

“We are not going to continue to kick the can down the road. We are committed as a council, on behalf of their ratepayers and residents, to do what we’ve been asked to do.”

Cr John Douglas said the transport agency was collecting more in road user charges than the council, as a region, had received in financial assistance.

“There is an increase in activity on our roads but it has not been reflected from NZTA in the support we are getting from them.”

Mr Tong was sure NZTA was getting SDC’s message and he hoped ratepayers understood council would not let this go.

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