Council seeks to avert road funding reduction

The Southland District Council has suggested an alternative method of government funding for roading projects, saying options already proposed could result in an annual funding drop of more than $1 million.

The New Zealand Transport Agency began reviewing funding subsidies last year and called for a second round of submissions by yesterday.

In its submission, the district council, which looks after almost 5000km of roads - 6.5% of New Zealand's total - said all but one of the five funding options put forward by the agency in a discussion paper would result in a funding drop. A ''mid-range'' funding drop would cost it more than $1 million annually.

''Essentially, councils will be forced to choose either a reduced level of service or a significant increase in local rates,'' the council said.

For Southland ratepayers, 32% of their rates bills already goes towards roading. That is about 18 times the amount paid for roading per property in Auckland.

The council said the agency options did not build on the strengths of the current system and represented a significant departure from a system within which local authorities had managed their assets for more than 30 years.

''Proposed changes result in winners and losers and create an environment in which local authorities are competing for limited funds, rather than working together for better national outcomes.''

Funding drops would also hinder economic growth in Southland, which required good roading networks to support rural-based industries such as agriculture, forestry and dairying, it said.

The alternative option proposed by the council would start from a fixed charge per person or rateable property.

The approach would distribute the burden of a nationally-shared roading network which cost different amounts to administer in different areas, and worked on the philosophy that the benefits of each part of the network were dispersed widely and did not simply accrue to the local population and local businesses.

A similar approach was used in Australia to distribute federal roading grants, the council said.

It also asked the agency to consider an enhanced roading subsidy for Stewart Island because of its isolation, its small ratepayer base and its popularity as a tourist destination. It did not specify what level of additional funding it was seeking.

The agency is expected to make a decision in May.

The Invercargill City Council is also submitting on the review. No-one from the council was available for comment yesterday.


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