From the Mayor's Desk

Articles and letters from the Mayor of Kaipara District - Greg Gent. 
Contact details of the Mayor or Councillors are here.


 
25 October 2017 - 'AGM' Speech

The year under review covers the transition from Commissioners to elected Councillors. This has been a significant milestone in the evolution of the Kaipara District. Although plans and budgets for the year were put in place by Commissioners the delivery of those plans had rested with Councillors for the majority of the period under review.

There are many things about Local Government that are simply different. We have to consult and get feedback on the Annual Plan and budget yet the more important part as I see it.........how we actually did has a way lower threshold of accountability. Inputs certainly matter but in my mind outputs matter more.

I would like to consider the year in three distinct but related parts being Council, Financial and Community, They are separate but of course with a huge overlap.

Council

The early part of our term has been dominated by learning. Councillors have had the opportunity to attend many briefing sessions on the many activities of Council. This has taken considerable Councillor and staff time but fundamental to Councillors providing the governance oversight that is their role. Typically those days started with presentations from Council staff and ended with presentations from many of our community groups. I would like to thank those groups for giving up their time in that regard.

Setting a Council Vision is the anchor to good decision making. That has been done, some may argue a little late. For me and I know a number of my colleagues it was close to impossible to set a vision for an organisation and community that we did not understand, hence the delay.

In May Jill MacPherson facilitated a session where Councillors developed their vision for Kaipara... “Thriving Communities Working Together”. From that Council will need to develop its core values and measurable actions aligned with the vision.

Council, I have found, is all about planning and consultation. We are just about to enter the next Long Term Plan period. This will be a substantive document which will be the blue print for Kaipara for the next ten years. This has been and continues to be a huge focus for us. I would like to thank Belinda Vernon and the members of her panel who have worked hard to develop a plan for Mangawhai. This, once fully consulted on will form a big part of the LTP for our eastern side.

It was unfortunate that little community interest was shown in putting a like process in place for Dargaville. As a result Council will need to shape what the needs for Dargaville over the planning period more directly, and that work has begun with the assistance of the Dargaville Community Development Board

Council staff have been doing a great job assisting our smaller towns around their aspirations and so have a better understanding of their needs.

Council activities have been underfunded for many years, the reasons are many and historic and should be confined to history. That reality though means many services residents expect have been delivered to a level that's below expectation. That then leads to a very negative culture which we need to turn around. Roading is the single largest challenge in this area. It has taken years of underspending to get our unsealed network in its current state and it will take years to climb out the other side, made worse by an escalation of log harvesting from trees planted some 20 years ago, and in the year under review a very wet autumn/spring.

Financial

Commissioners set a budget with a planned debt reduction of $200k. Against revenues of circa $60m this is a break even budget in my language. We took the view that we had to do better than that primarily as debt needs to continue to trend downwards. Higher Waste Water development contributions, land sales and surpluses meant we could repay $2.8m of debt and that still left $11m in working capital.

When I Chaired the three person review team of Kaipara for Government some six years ago, debt was at its peak of $89 million, Today it sits at around $62m. I use the word around deliberately. Within our debt are some commitments and funds that we don't own but administer. For example of MELA fund of $5.2m sits within that number. We also have reserve contributions that we must pay out of $ 4.8 m. It is Councils plan to spend these funds over the next planning period. Council is currently developing a policy that will form the frame work against which those funds will be put back into our various communities.

Our debt has been locked in for up to ten years mostly through financial swaps. One should only lock in debt to remove risk through minimizing volatility, not play the interest market. A ten year policy may have been appropriate when debt was way higher but less so today. Our Treasury policy is also under review. Unwinding some of those positions will carry a cost. By example today our cost of debt is 5.2% versus a market that is lower than that. The majority of our debt is with the Local Government Funding Authority which means we can access funds at a favourable price.

When we look to this financial year it is quite conceivable that we can get debt down by circa $10m, driven by the sale of woodlots, unused working capital used to retire term debt and planned debt repayments of $3.8m.

This will be fantastic progress if it can be delivered, but even with that reduction we will still have some way to go to get our debt within the average range of a number of Councillor's we compare ourselves to. A debt level of circa $30 million would put us in the average range of the group of Councils we compare ourselves with.

Roading is our single largest cost by a country mile. We get a 61% Government subsidy for approved works. We made progress on roading improvements but still have a long way to go with no magic fix. 20% of the network has no base structure, we will have over $3m of new slips to deal with this winter, in the current financial year we will spend more on the network but there is no silver bullet.

Four Community Roading Groups have been formed with their first meetings in early November. These Groups will assist our roading team to identify priorities, as seen through community eyes, and provide feedback around performance of the contractors.

We finished the year with 111 FTE staff. This represents a further increase. There are a number of factors driving this increase. Consenting requirements on our eastern side are escalating and we are trying to minimise the use consultants to deal with the workload. This area of our activity should be self-funding.

We have had a number of legislative requirements we have had to meet, a Health and Safety person being an obvious example, a role that previously never existed. However the greatest factor has been the move away from the use of Consultants to developing skills in house. So yes, you see the lift in staff numbers but in many areas there is an offset around costs. Councillors require any permanent increase in staffing to be accompanied by a business case.

What I have just talked about does raise the issue of measurement of Council performance. I hope Council put some time into developing some good metrics in this area both soft and hard. We do not make a conventional profit, we can increase revenue (rates) at the stroke of a pen and you as ratepayers have nowhere to go. You can't vote with your feet. So put all of that together and there is a very special responsibility as I see it to get this right. On the positive side good metrics mean that we would have the ability to celebrate success with our many hard working staff.

Council, like a number of others has an independent Audit, Risk and Finance Committee chair. Richard Booth an ex commissioner agreed to fill the role for one year as a transition measure. Richards’s term is up and he has stepped aside. I would like to thank Richard for his services in this position. Council has appointed Stana Pezic from Kumeu as the new Chair. Stana is a practicing accountant and a very experienced Audit Chair so her input will be valuable to us.

Community

I have been humbled getting to know many very hard working people within the various communities that make up Kaipara. I salute you all. We have some fantastic things happening right across the district. Although our resources are limited I would Ike to thank the top staff we have in our community team who work alongside you as much as resources allow.

During the year we re-introduced our Citizens Awards, one method that Council can recognise those contributions. This year’s recipients were, Lillian Radich, Colleen Preston, Stella Woolnough, Valerie Mann and Bev Ross. They all stood out not because of one project they had driven but because of a lifetime of giving back.

Council continued to support community groups with financial support for their activities and development. We approved $36,000 in operational grants, $9,000 in contracts for service and a further $26,000 in capital grants. In addition $178,000 was granted from the MELA funds. Council has overhauled its community assistance policy to align it with our community outcomes.

We continue to work with our smaller communities, a great example of this is the Kaiwaka Improvement Plan, a great example of Council working with community groups and other agencies, in this case the NZTA.

I would like to acknowledge and thank my Deputy Mayor, Peter Wethey. Peter has been unstinting of his time and a great sounding board for me. Peter Tynan has joined us recently as our interim CEO. Peter arrived with no local government background but picked up the role very quickly and is doing a great job, to our wider staff and senior team a big thank you for a year where I believe real progress has been made in what has been at time a difficult working environment.



22 August 2017 - Vision, Long Term Plan

Vision

Councillors have spent time recently considering our Vision. The vision we "inherited" was “Kaipara where it’s easy to live". Having been in the role some nine months now we decided to consider its appropriateness. As a result the vision we have adopted is "Thriving Communities Working Together". We believe this reflects our aspirations for our district more appropriately. A vision is very important for any organisation, everything that we do should hang off that aspiration.

Long Term Plan (LTP)

We have had many briefing sessions on the LTP covering each activity Council undertakes on your behalf. In Mangawhai last week we had a Councillor only session to agree the priorities as we see them. Once a draft LTP is completed, which will include these priorities, it will go out to you for your input and feedback. Once the process is complete (as required by law) we will have our blueprint for the next 10 years.

So those priorities, in no particular order, are:

1        Deliver an acceptable level of day‑to‑day service to residents.

This includes an ability to answer the telephone on time, turn around consents etcetera in a timely manner. This may seem very basic but we are not doing this in some areas today. Our people are doing their best but under‑resourced, our telephone system being an example. We also need to have happy engaged staff for any of the above to occur. That is also not our situation today.

2        Roading

We now know that 20% of our unsealed network has no/little base metal. Without proper foundations repairs will never work. There is quite a cost here which will need to be approved and shared with the NZ Transport Agency (NZTA). We are very much in catch‑up mode and unfortunately that will take time.

3          Mangawhai Community Plan

Deliver the big hit items within the Plan. Work needs to go into validating the priorities here but having the Plan is a great start.

4          Dargaville

We are still to identify the detail of what we would like to do here but maybe the word "refresh" sums it up. Issues also around infrastructure, water, section availability as well. This is a work in progress

5          Smaller towns and communities

Most of our smaller areas have groups doing great work very often supported by Council staff. That is planned to continue.

6          Economic Development

Our thinking here is an incremental approach, firstly to assist our various communities to be great places to live and do business. Alongside that however we would like a couple of specific initiatives in the planning period, these will be around walking and cycling, the largest being consideration of the "Dargaville to Donnelly’s" cycle trail.

7          District Plan

We believe this needs revisiting. Any changes will take time so that work needs to get started.

8          Debt

We need to have a targeted level of debt over this planning period. Even with the huge debt reduction that has been achieved over the last five years our debt is still at double the level of our peer group of New Zealand councils. Zero debt is not our aim however debt needs to be at a level that ensures we can fund future infrastructure needs, the interest burden is manageable and our cost of borrowing is at market with only a standard risk premium. Councillors are yet to decide what that number should be.

Pine Forests

As I mentioned in an earlier column, Council has been out to Tender some 635 ha of pine forest that we own. Some is at maturity and the rest in various stages of growth. We received a number of tenders and have accepted one. In most instances the land and trees are being sold as a parcel. There are two exceptions. The forest that is an integral part of our water collection north of Dargaville will be retained with only the cutting rights sold. The forest being the land that makes up the Taharoa Domain (Kai Iwi Lakes), the land will be sold however Council will require legal easements to future‑proof access should this area ever be needed for recreation associated with the Taharoa Domain, walking and cycling being obvious examples.

Once the deal is signed I can let you know the price, suffice to say we are talking a number of millions of dollars.

Community Grants Policy

Julie Geange has led a sub-committee of Council to look at this area and put a better process around it. We allocate circa $100,000 to grants made up of $80,000 and $20,000 as a Mayor’s discretionary fund. I have never felt comfortable with giving away ratepayer money with no/little process so to that end the Mayoral Fund will be scrapped and incorporated into the other sum. Shortly on our website you will see the criteria against which funds will be allocated and on that basis whether it is worth you applying for your organisation. The overriding criteria aligns with our vision "Thriving Communities Working Together".

24 July 2017 - Long Term Plan 2018-2028

Councillors are very involved in briefing sessions around our next Long Term Plan (LTP) which will commence formal consultation in early 2018. This document will set the future direction of Council, so it is very important. Like all planning sessions of Council we choose to hold them in "open meeting" and it was great to see some members of the public attending. The next sessions will be held on 07 August, 9:30 am, Northern Wairoa War Memorial Hall, Dargaville and 14 August, 1:00 pm, Mangawhai Club, Molesworth Drive.

We will have some big calls to make in some areas. If you have anything that you would particularly like included in the LTP then please send Sean Mahoney an email (smahoney@kaipara.govt.nz) so that it can be considered. This particularly relates to the big items of infrastructure spending.

Councillor Larsen

Jonathan brought forward a number of formal resolutions to the last Council meeting. He wished us to consider filming and then live streaming Council meetings. Although the concept had merit it would have precluded us from the current practice of holding Council meetings throughout the district. We concluded, including Jonathan, that this was a more practical means (and cheaper) of being open to the public than live streaming. Also in Kaipara the reality is for many of you that your internet connection is such that live streaming would fail.

His resolution around getting a more formal process including Councillor sign‑off for appointing Commissioners to Hearing Panels etcetera was agreed to.

Private Sealing of Council Roads

A paper will come to our 14 August Council meeting recommending a process for this. Our Council papers are on the website a week before the meeting; for those who would like input have a look at what is recommended and contact your local Councillor with your feedback. We are receiving quite a bit of inquiry for private sealing so we will need to get a policy in place that is clear and equitable across the district.

Housing Shortage

You may have seen some media on this. This problem appears to be hitting our Tongan community particularly hard. If you have even temporary accommodation that would be a great help. The Minister of the local Methodist church Rev Kuli Fisi’Ihai will personally oversee the tenants to ensure they are meeting landlord expectations. If you can help please contact him on 439 8724.

Maungaturoto Methodist Church Centennial

Ann and I attended the above. Quite an achievement. Zoe Roadley gave an informative and very entertaining address covering the 70 odd years of her involvement with the church in its various locations.

Mangawhai Community Plan

I would very much like to thank Belinda Vernon and her hardworking Mangawhai Community Advisory Panel for the great work they have done over the last year developing recommendations for the Draft Mangawhai Community Plan. The Panel’s recommendations were formally received by Council at our July meeting. We will receive the Draft Mangawhai Community Plan at our August meeting which will then be open for community feedback. Deputy Mayor Peter Wethey and I will host a dinner for the group as a "thank you". The committee’s time was donated. Members were Belinda Vernon, Richard Gunson, Joanna Roberts, David Wingate, Kelli Sullivan and Ian Greenwood.

Dargvaille Menz Shed

Dargaville now has a Menz shed. It opens onto the carpark against the river just along from My Accountants. A fantastic concept that is thriving in Whangarei and I am sure will be successful in Dargaville as well. Mention must go to the Hyland Family and a bequest from David Saies a member of the family. The bequest was some funds plus a huge array of tools which have been added to from local donations. It’s always dangerous to pick out individuals but Brian Burnett and Colin White’s efforts should be recognised. All the benches were made and donated by Colin White and he also set up the woodworking gear.




11 July 2017 - Roading Meetings

I write this in Dargaville after just completing the last of the six roading meetings that were held across the district. Meetings were very well attended. I would like to think ratepayers and residents gained an understanding of the issues that Council is grappling with.

The overwhelming feedback from ratepayers was the lack of water table maintenance and then when it is done, the standard of that work. Culverts not being cleaned to an acceptable standard, and grading were also consistent concerns.

As a result of these meetings we will form community groups that can provide local input to our engineering staff around the priorities for their area and also feedback on how well contracts are being delivered on. This should get ratepayers much closer to the decisions we need to make in our roading network. A number of attendees at meetings indicated a willingness to be part of such a group in their area and I thank them for that. We will now have to define what those regions are and ensure we have reasonable coverage of community representation. If you are interested in such a role but could not get to a meeting then please email Sean Mahoney (smahoney@kaipara.govt.nz) your contact details and register your interest. We think these groups could meet quarterly at the start and as things progress that may be able to be pushed out to three times per annum.

Like almost every decision your Councillors make our debt position is a major consideration. After leaving some of the meetings I am not sure the reality of our situation was well understood.

In the Local Authority Comparatives table (below) you will see a sample of similar rural district councils and/or our neighbouring councils and their indebtedness. Some of those councils will be on the brink of embarking on a major capital spend, the Far North being a good example but overall Kaipara is unfortunately the outlier. You will see from the sample of smaller councils like Kaipara our debt per ratepayer is over double the average of the group. That is the reality that your new Councillors have to work within. Our ability to spend additional money on roads that does not carry an NZ Transport Agency (NZTA) subsidy is not an option for us at present.

For those who could not attend a roading meeting the presentation, which is quite self-explanatory, is on Council’s website here.

Local Authority Comparatives (Annual Report year ended June 2016)*

Local Authority

Population 2016

Rating units (RU)

Rates $000's

Rates per RU

Debt  $000's

Debt per RU

Debt by popn

Ashburton DC

 33,700

 15,397

30,157

1,959

 47,352

 3,075

1,405

Clutha DC

17,450

11,998

 17,764

 1,481

 0  

 0  

   0

Far North DC

     62,000

  38,548

       73,710

    1,912

    26,500

       687

   427

Gore DC

      12,500

   6,047

       14,284

    2,362

    12,000

    1,984

   960

Grey DC

13,550

    9,096

       13,109

    1,441

     30,300

    3,331

2,236

Hauraki DC

       19,550

     11,839

          20,473

       1,729

       34,010

       2,873

       1,740

Horowhenua DC

       30,100

     17,933

          27,807

       1,551

       49,000

       2,732

       1,628

Kaipara DC

       21,700

     15,298

          28,361

       1,854

       64,961

       4,246

       2,994

Manawatu DC

        27,500

     25,833

          25,833

       1,000

       53,000

       2,052

       1,927

Masterton DC

        24,600

     12,240

          26,237

       2,144

       52,300

       4,273

       2,126

Matamata-Piako DC

        34,100

     14,877

          32,097

       2,157

       25,000

       1,680

          733

Southland DC

        30,900

     20,749

          38,431

       1,852

                0  

             0  

             0  

Tararua DC

     17,600

     10,595

          20,589

       1,943

          9,924

          937

          564

Thames-Coromandel DC

        28,400

     26,848

          58,668

       2,185

       35,000

       1,304

       1,232

Waitaki DC

        22,100

     13,202

          29,544

       2,238

               12

              1

              1

Whangarei DC

        87,700

     43,077

          72,800

       1,690

     152,052

       3,530

       1,734

Average

        30,216

     18,349

          33,117

       1,844

       36,963

       2,044

       1,232

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Auckland Unitary Council

   1,614,300

  536,549

    1,565,000

       2,917

  6,941,000

     12,936

       4,300

*Made up of similar rural district councils (DC) and/or our neighbouring councils



23 June 2017 - Dargaville Town Plan
 

As you will be aware from earlier Columns I have written, Council wishes to begin a process to develop a Town Plan for Dargaville. I will refer to Dargaville however, done well, supporting communities should get a spinoff. The classic hub and spoke rationale of regional development.

The vision is          Dargaville a great place to live

                            Dargaville a great place to visit.

We have spent time with people from the Dargaville Business Forum, Dargaville Development Board, Te Uri o Hau, Dargaville Promotions Society, and Te Roroa and come up with some key work streams. What is proposed will build on and enhance the great work some of these community organisations are doing.

1        Develop an identity (brand) for Dargaville

2        What infrastructure is needed in the Town

3        Town Centre improvements

4        Community Facilities

5        Population demographics (older persons and Maori youth being examples)

Governance Group Needed

Council will fund the work within a budget. What is required are individuals to be part of a Governance Group that will drive the whole process. We would expect a large part of servicing the Governance Group will come from Council staff, however some key areas, brand for example, will require external expertise.

The ideal size of the governance group would be five plus a Chair. Costs would be covered for members at Council rates and possibly a modest honorarium for the Chair.

This Group will drive governance, not representation, so will act in the interests of Dargaville and its surrounds. The very important function of representation will be driven by very regular community engagement along the way.

We are seeking individuals who are prepared to put their names forward for the Governance Group. Skills would include:

1        A passion for Dargaville and its surrounds

2        The ability to think laterally and look at things with a fresh approach

3        Proven ability to work within a group

4        A visionary

5        No overt political affiliation

Diversity in all of its facets will also be important for a very effective Group.

If you would like to contribute and be part of this Group then please get your relevant details to Sean Mahoney (smahoney@kaipara.govt.nz or 09 439 3602). Council will then work through a selection process.

We would like to get this project started by spring. Once appointed the Group would come up with their Draft Terms of Reference and budget, both of which will need Council signoff.

If you believe you have the skills and want to give something back to your area I urge you to put your name forward for what will be an exciting project.



CONTACT US

Online requests 

Kaipara District Council
0800 727 059 (24 Hours)
Phone: +64 9 439 3123
Email: council@kaipara.govt.nz
 

OFFICE LOCATIONS

Office hours: 8 am to 4.30 pm Monday to Friday

Address: 42 Hokianga Road, Dargaville 0310
Address: Unit 6, The Hub, 6 Molesworth Drive, Mangawhai 0505

Mail: Private Bag 1001, Dargaville 0340
 

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