Council in a position to invest in community
Council is in a strong financial position and the outlook for the district is positive says corporate services group manager Mike Drummond, who is leaving after 5 years.
“As always, I see the council as being in a strong financial position,” he said.
The council had relatively low levels of debt and had achieved a lot, building a wastewater plant for a modest amount on budget and on time.
Now it had the ability to invest in community infrastructure. In the 10-year plan there was the library, the theatre and the pool as major projects.
“I think we have the ability to fund those projects and move Gisborne forward. We really want to be a place where people want to come and having those essential community facilities is really important for attracting people to the district.”
He believed the projects were achievable although there was still some work to be done on the pool, which was further out in the scope of the 10-year plan.
“These days we do a lot more up-front work to get that scope right. We actually get it designed right from day one taking into account what the community can afford and what is deliverable. So I feel really positive about the district.”
These projects, which were a big backlog of community infrastructure, would be done in the next 10 years. That meant the following 10-year programme would be business as usual around the normal core infrastructure replacement programmes.
He hoped that in future there would not be three major projects such as these occurring in one 10-year period.
There were still challenges, however.
One was rates affordability for some groups within the community — as it was for a number of areas in New Zealand. But given the large number of low-income people in Gisborne, it was more of a problem for this district than in other areas.
“You have got a new chief executive who is determined to hold those rates rises within or close to the level of inflation, so quite a lot of change is likely within the organisation to ensure we deliver on better outcomes and at a lower cost to the ratepayers.”
That was a real challenge but it was also quite exciting, because nothing made you feel better than knowing you have been able to deliver an outcome more cost-effectively.
One remaining problem was unpaid rates on Maori land. There was no “silver bullet” for addressing that.
“Unfortunately when it gets reported that tends to concentrate on the negatives — those landowners who are not paying their rates, not those that are.”
The working party on this issue was reconvening this month after it being on the backburner while the council dealt with unexpected effects from the previous rates strike.
There was keen interest from staff and councillors to fix that issue but the council could not do that on its own. The Government and other groups, such as Te Runanganui o Ngati Porou, had a role to play.
Economic development in the region also had a part to play. It was much easier to earn rates off land when it was earning an income.
Multiple ownership made it difficult for Maori to put management structures in place and to raise the necessary capital to be able to develop the land.
“That is something that central government can’t fix but central government and Māori can look at,” he said.
This was Mr Drummond’s first role in local government. He is going to Tasman District Council where he will rejoin former chief executive Lindsay McKenzie. The position of group manager community services will not be filled immediately.