The Gisborne Chamber of Commerce represents approximately 150 businesses in the Gisborne region.
Key point – on the right track with “back to basics” focus
The Chamber is supportive of the general approach of increased expenditure on key infrastructure and an increase in both debt levels and rates to pay for it.
- Supportive of a lift in roading expenditure
- Supportive of the Managed Aquifer Recharge trial programme
- Supportive of the DrainWise project to fix wastewater/stormwater issues
- Supportive of the proposed improvements to the wastewater treatment plant
- Supportive of the Waipaoa Flood Control Scheme upgrade
The Chamber does not have a problem with “above 2%” rates increases across the community. We agree that key infrastructure requires significant, well-planned expenditure and we think higher debt levels and up to 5 percent rates rises to fund this expenditure is appropriate.
However, the Chamber is adamant that the expenditure on this key infrastructure be managed prudently and efficiently; no one minds money being spent on infrastructure so long as the best long-term options are chosen and installation is well implemented. We believe the council should consider outsourcing some development projects and ownership/management of related assets to its CCO or Eastland Group. We believe there should be more big-picture thinking and investigation of the district’s long-term transport infrastructure needs.
Road infrastructure improvements critical
- Roads are critical infrastructure to the region and need to be maintained to a high standard to ensure that the roading network is suitable and future-proofed for economic prosperity and growth.
- The Chamber fully supports an approach to central government for additional funding to the district for maintenance and improvement on key road routes.
- The Chamber believes that strong contractor management is required to ensure road maintenance contractors are held to account and roads are well maintained.
- The Chamber is supportive of exploring options such as a regional fuel levy, or toll roads or other alternative funding options, as well as pursuit of the fair return of Road User Charges coming out of this district.
- The Chamber believes Council needs to charge farm-foresters a forestry roading differential for the portion of their land that is in forest as soon as possible, to help prepare for the roading impacts of their harvest. It is a pity this hasn't happened already, with farmers preparing to face a new impost from the inclusion of stock emissions in the Emissions Trading Scheme.
Water infrastructure is vital
- Water supply to horticultural users is a key issue for regional economic growth.
- The MAR trial programme is a very important initiative and Council should be congratulated for its support.
- Comprehensive consultation is required on the reasonable community questions of water ownership and/or water infrastructure ownership. Levies to commercial users to fund infrastructure, drive efficient water use and ensure sustainable water supply is appropriate. These levies should be set in agreement with key industry and commercial stakeholders.
- Initiation of the Waipaoa Flood Control Scheme upgrade is a necessity and is prudent “insurance” for inevitable future adverse weather events.
- We support the DrainWise initiative required to reduce and stop current issues such as raw sewage being released into city rivers and backing up on properties.
- We agree that Council should replace old wastewater pipes in the public road and enforce private, while also funding some of the private work where big gains can be made. We note this is the preferred option.
- However we suggest that other funding provisions be determined and implemented, possibly on a case by case basis;
- That a criteria be established, possibly involving an amnesty period, so property owners have a set but limited time frame for undertaking repairs;
- If circumstances warrant, the repairs could be managed and undertaken by suitable Council staff or contractors;
- And required measures be put in place to manage each case and charge the property owner according to any financial outlay required by Council to undertake the necessary remedial repairs, in order achieve the desired reduction more quickly.
- The Chamber supports the council’s preferred option, for affordability reasons and to allow time for further investigation and technology improvement re a wetland and alternative use.
Regional Transport Infrastructure – More analysis required.
- The Chamber would observe that there is a current short/medium-term emphasis on roading maintenance out of obvious necessity, however all district transport infrastructure needs to come into the discussion now. We believe there should be an independent study of these matters, and that the Provincial Growth Fund would support an application for such a study.
- What are the real economic and other trade-offs and impacts of utilising both the road network and the rail line, or investing in coastal shipping instead of rail?
- What are freight customer needs now (as opposed to 2012) and into the future that would inform a decision on rail or coastal shipping investment?
- Are the key road network routes situated in the right location given future forestry harvests?
- Is there another route/better method to get logs from Dunstan Road to the port?
- Could part/s of the State Highway south to Hawke’s Bay be rerouted for much better outcomes?
- Gisborne Holdings Ltd and potentially also Eastland Group should be utilised to seek efficiencies, drive clarity of purpose and enable transparency of finances. Council is considering transferring Community Housing to GHL; the Chamber thinks it should also consider its CCO owning/managing other key assets in the region such as theatres and the Olympic Pool complex. GHL or Eastland Group could provide similar commercial expertise to the district’s water supply, for example.
- The return sought from GHL in its statement of intent is a 4% Return on Shareholder Funds. Council should seek higher levels of return and allow higher GHL debt levels to drive appropriate decision-making by the board. Settling for a 4% return is not using the ratepayers’ investment in these assets to the best potential.
- One of the reasons for transfer of assets to GHL was to create transparency of overheads. With the asset transfers now mostly complete and overhead costs transferred to GHL, we don’t see overhead reductions within Council. We note that the council has also brought water testing and gardening in-house, and added project managers, but we understand it has also significantly increased its communications, IT and human resources teams.
- It is not unreasonable for our members or the wider Tairawhiti community to question whether the Council organisation is itself “sharing the pain” as it asks ratepayers to stump up, to approve large debt increases, and to realise some important projects can't be done without significant or complete grant funding — and is asking funders to step into the breach. We believe Council isn't showing it is focused on efficient delivery of services when its staffing costs are forecast to be $1.2m over-budget this financial year, and we don’t hear much publicly about efforts in this area. If this is also the perception of funders, we feel it could put grant funding at risk.
- While the Chamber supports the “5% to thrive” rates increase proposal in the draft Long Term Plan, it would have been better if instead Council had made gradual increases of say 3% over recent years instead of a sharp jump from 2% to 5% now. Council should have processes in place to be able to foresee these requirements and plan rates increases prudently and gradually.
- The Chamber is supportive of the council’s plan to increase debt levels to fund necessary infrastructure improvements and spread the payments over time. We agree the council has room to lift debt levels but would want to see debt come down relatively quickly as planned, for future investment and emergency works flexibility.
- The chamber is supportive of the Tairawhiti Economic Action Plan and the council’s commitment in it to streamline its consenting processes. We note from the LTP consultation document that it is intended to increase charges for consents to lessen the burden on ratepayers. The Chamber would hope that any fee increases would contribute to markedly improved levels of service and processing times.