Wait­omo coun­cil has more debt says union

Waipa Post - - News -

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.”

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