Long-term plan deferral ‘attractive’: council staff

Photo: ODT files
Photo: ODT files
Staff from three councils in Otago and Southland have recommended delaying completion of their long-term plans because of uncertainty about Three Waters and transport funding.

Cancelling the 2024-34 10-year plan became an option for councils last week when the government said they could instead run just an annual plan for 2024-25, followed by a nine-year long-term plan.

The move was aimed at allowing councils to have planning flexibility while the new government continued to develop policy details affecting large parts of council operations.

Elected representatives from the Dunedin City Council and Waitaki District Council are due to decide on Tuesday next week whether to defer their long-term plans by a year or carry on.

The Central Otago District Council is due to determine its position the following day.

Dunedin City Council staff described the option of deferring the long-term plan (LTP) as "attractive".

"With a change of government, and more legislative changes signalled to come, we have an increased level of uncertainty in our information in years 2-10 of the draft 10-year plan," they said in a report for councillors.

Deferral would "enable a better understanding of revenue streams, rating impacts, investment returns, debt ... and interest costs".

Staff said the first year of a draft capital budget was complete, but the remaining nine years were challenging because of uncertainty about the future of Three Waters and transport funding priorities.

The government repealed much of the previous government’s Three Waters reform agenda last week and it is not yet clear what will replace this.

"Given the lack of information at this time, deferring the 10-year plan for 12 months would allow for better planning and information to be included in a nine-year plan," city council staff said.

A new class of financially independent council-controlled organisations is expected to be created and the city council would need to consider if it should make use of this.

The council anticipated government changes in priority for transport projects and said levels of funding that might be available from NZ Transport Agency Waka Kotahi in the next three years were highly uncertain.

Also, many projects that formed part of the council’s initial zero-carbon plan "are now likely to be unsubsidised".

Deferring the LTP would enable the council to work on "a more accurate" carbon-zero programme for consideration within a nine-year plan.

"Further, it will enable us to have a more robust conversation with our community about what is affordable and achievable."

Waitaki District Council staff were wary of producing a 10-year plan for public consultation based on incorrect information.

"It is not an effective process if we were to ask the community for its views when things are likely to change so significantly," they said.

"The lack of clarity, particularly in relation to Three Waters and transportation, has considerable implications for council’s LTP as they are the most significant areas of the business that have a direct and material effect on debt levels and rates affordability."

Council staff also recommended approving a list of initiatives for inclusion in 10-year budgets regardless of whether the LTP was deferred.

Central Otago District Council staff pointed to smoother planning processes from deferring the LTP by a year.

The Queenstown Lakes District Council intends to adopt its LTP in September, instead of meeting the usual deadline of June 30.

Two councils in the South — Invercargill City Council and Clutha District Council — plan to meet or get near the normal deadline.

The Invercargill City Council is poised to approve its 2024-34 draft LTP for public consultation on Tuesday and Clutha’s council did this last week.