Waitomo council has more debt says union
Waitomo District Council has more debt per ratepayer than any other rural council in New Zealand, according to Ratepayers’ Report, the Taxpayers’ Union’s 2018 local government league tables.
Neighbouring O¯ torohanga District Council has $7705 less debt per ratepayer than Waitomo District Council — $2578 compared to $9283 — and Waipa¯ has the least debt per ratepayer ($1340) in the region.
Jordan Williams, executive director of the Taxpayers’ Union, says Waitomo District Council is not only reaching deeply into the pockets of today’s ratepayers, but also looking at higher rates for tomorrow due to its huge levels of debt.
“The council has the highest average residential rates in the region, and compared to all other rural councils, more debt on a per ratepayer basis.
“A contributing factor to the burden that the council imposes on its ratepayers is the number of staff it employs.
“Waitomo District Council employs 30.1 staff per 1000 ratepayers — more than every other council in the country, including Auckland.
“Unsurprisingly, this high level of staffing translates to a high wage bill. Waitomo District Council spends $1922 per ratepayer on staff costs, more than double any other council in the region.
“By comparison, Otorohanga ¯ District Council spends only $706 per ratepayer on staff costs. South Waikato District Council charges the lowest average residential rates in the region ($1780), pays a low proportion of its staff salaries in excess of $100,000 (7.9 per cent) and has comparatively low debt per ratepayer ($1851).”
Waipa¯ District Council not only has the least debt per ratepayer, but also the lowest financing costs ($54 per ratepayer) in the region.
But the Union says its average residential rates ($2552) are the fifth highest of any provincial council.
“This suggests that the council may be relying heavily on ratepayers’ today, rather than spreading the financial burden of its spending to those who will benefit the most.”
Ratepayers Report is available online and free of charge at www.ratepayersreport.nz so all South Waikato ratepayers can judge for themselves the performance of their council. Report over-simplified
Generally speaking ‘league tables’ like this can have limited value, because they are too simplistic, according to Waipa¯ District Council chief financial officer Ken Morris.
“They don’t recognise and explain some genuine distorting factors in terms of socio-economic and other variables,” he says. “However, in terms of Waipa¯ District Council, our average residential rates show us grouped with a number of other councils at a similar level to ours.
“In terms of rates, we’re not the highest, and we’re not the lowest. We are comfortable with that position.”
He says what council aims to do is provide quality infrastructure, a good level of service across all our activities and great community amenities.
“That’s what makes Waipa¯ such an attractive place to live. This is supported by resident perception surveys which consistently show a high level of pride in the district.”
Waipa¯ is shown as eighth highest in the equity per ratepayer table.
This reflects the high level of assets per ratepayer and the low level of liabilities per ratepayer.
Waipa¯ has a low level of debt relative to other councils, and has maintained this over a number of years despite huge investment into core infrastructure like water, wastewater and roads.
“Our debt has remained at $13 million for the past five annual balance dates,” says Ken.
“It is forecast to increase relatively steeply over the next few years as we continue to fund infrastructure.
“But we are in a sound financial position for this.
“Our new 10-Year Plan demonstrates that we can afford the ambitious programme ahead of us. Average annual rates over the next 10 years are forecast to increase by 2.2 per cent per year. That’s much, much lower than many of our neighbouring councils.
“Importantly, over the past few years we’ve consistently achieved around 50 per cent of our income coming from rates which is much lower than some other councils. That shows we have diverse income streams which help lessen the burden on our ratepayers.”
Ken says Waipa¯ is a high growth district and this comes at a cost because they have to continue to invest in infrastructure to meet growthdriven demand.
“One of our key objectives is to ensure that ‘growth pays for growth’ and the investment into new infrastructure is not a burden on existing ratepayers.”