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Wairarapa’s district councils substantially underestimate the cost and significance of services at present delivered by the regional council, says its chair Fran Wilde.
Ms Wilde said a report used by the three councils last week as the basis for pursuing a stand-alone local body contains a host of inaccuracies that collectively suggest Wairarapa could cut links with Wellington with only minimal financial pain.
“The people of Wairarapa have a right to decide their own future, but it is critical that they also have absolutely full and transparent facts about the cost of the radical move being proposed by their mayors and councils,” she said.
“The report paints a picture of regional council services that are either over priced, unnecessary, unnecessarily comprehensive or easily abolished.
“That could not be further from the truth. Our figures have been independently reviewed by PriceWaterhouseCoopers, and are a reasonable and conservative portrayal of the facts.
“This year we face a shortfall of $11.2 million between what we collect in rates in Wairarapa and what we spend there.
“A difference of that magnitude will confront any unitary authority established in Wairarapa, and it will not go away, no matter how hard you play with the figures – as this report has attempted to do.”
Wilde says that the regional council considers its funding for Wairarapa-based activities to be worthwhile investment in the region’s biggest rural area, which has strong economic, social and cultural links with the rest of the region.
“Wairarapa has also a been big recipient of external private investment over recent decades and this has forged even closer links, with many current Wairarapa residents having moved there from other parts of Wellington.
“In terms of the report’s claims. I was particularly surprised to see the old chestnut that regional council expenditure had blown out in recent years, from a shortfall against rates take of $4.5 million in $2008 to today’s figure of $11.2 million.
“The $4.5m figures was given to Wairarapa councils as an estimate a few years ago and not only were they told it was an estimate, rather than a line-by-line analysis, but they were also told it did not include expenditure on public transport. Since then there has also been additional expenditure in areas such a possum control.
“Not content with giving untrue statements about expenditure, the report then magics up additional income in the form of a $750,000 annual dividend from CentrePort. Even at the current dividend rate, which is the highest for some years (and we don’t know what it will be in future) the Wairarapa figure on a population basis would be no more than $400,000.
“Importantly, this unitary council proposal will also kill the Wairarapa Water Use project - the biggest economic development initiative in Wairarapa – unless Wairarapa’s 22,000 ratepayers are prepared to stump up an additional $3m which is what the regional council has budgeted for the next three years.” Wilde said.
Wairarapa ratepayers need to scrutinise this proposal very carefully before they agree to it
“I completely understand the sentiment of some who claim that their concerns might be drowned out by voices closer to Wellington as a result of re-organisation, and that’s why I feel a two-tier structure for the region strikes the right balance between regional and local needs.”