ORC one of lowest spends: report

Photo: Supplied
Photo: Supplied
A consultant's report has heralded the Otago Regional Council as having one of the lowest council spends per head of population, despite significant rates rises over the past few years.

The $110,000 Morrison Low report, which the ORC commissioned earlier this year, said despite significant growth in operating expenditure, the council still maintained one of the lowest spends per head of population across the regional council sector.

"The growth has clearly been a deliberate response to a recognition that ORC was, at the time, insufficiently resourced to deliver on its statutory obligations and community expectations," it said.

In June, the ORC signed off an 18% rates increase for the 2023-24 financial year. This came off the back of a similarly large rate increase in the previous financial year.

In the four years since 2019, ORC has increased its total operating expenditure by 55%, accompanied by similar growth in the number of fulltime equivalent staff employed and total rates revenue.

"Effective communication of ratepayer value will only be possible by having clear and consistent approaches for translating strategy to action and delivery and a clear understanding of organisational efficiency.

"ORC is a different organisation than it was in 2019.

"Its increase in scale means that the processes and procedures that were in place for a relatively small organisation are no longer fit for its present size.

"This is not an indictment on the processes of the past, but a reflection of the changing nature of ORC’s business."

In November last year, the Otago Daily Times reported ORC staffing numbers were about 320.

The report noted there had been several reviews of the ORC’s operations since 2019, including the Wynn Williams/Mitchell Daysh review of ORC’s consent functions, Prof Peter Skelton’s investigation of freshwater management and allocation of functions at ORC, and the review of ORC’s science capability and capacity.

"Growth at ORC took place following a clear mandate from the Otago community and was a challenge placed on ORC by elected members and through a number of independent reports.

"A changing economic environment, and the recent period of significant rates increases has meant that there is limited appetite to continue with large rates rises.

"The lack of commonly adopted clear, consistent project and programme management discipline across the organisation creates a risk of inefficient delivery or project delays."

The report also said the council’s processes and systems were no longer fit for purpose.

"They reflect an organisation that, through necessity, operated in silos and carried out activities independently of each other."

The consultant’s report had a raft of recommendations for the next year, including ensuring work can be done in-house before seeking consultants, and reviewing ORC’s planned and existing projects across the organisation.

The councillors will receive the report today.