SDC plan’s finances ‘scary’

Southland District Council offices in Invercargill. PHOTO: FILE
Southland District Council offices in Invercargill. PHOTO: FILE
If a financial plan like the Southland District Council’s was presented to a bank, it would be thrown back in its face, a Southland district councillor warned yesterday.

Cr Derek Chamberlain did not mince his words at a council meeting yesterday.

"I’m not going to put my name to this 10-year plan — I think it’s scary.

"If we are going to borrow that much in the next 10 years and we do have an event, we are screwed."

Councillors heard the grim and "uncomfortable" LTP consultation document, which outlined the council’s borrowing would balloon to more than $268million of debt by 2033-34.

Rates were set to have the largest increase of 13.66% in the next financial year and 59.87% over the 10-year plan.

The council’s ability to balance its books for the next decade rested on a knife edge.

The council’s hefty debt would affect its ability to borrow if an emergency event occurred.

Actions by external service providers, such as funding from New Zealand Transport Agency Waka Kotahi and Three Waters legislation still being actioned at central government, could profoundly and quickly impact the bottom line.

Cr Chamberlain said he believed the "rinse and repeat" plan was a big discouragement for people to remain in the province.

He suggested a deeper look at council’s internal performance was needed to see if there were better ways of working.

"From a commercial sense it does not make any sense at all — that you can balloon from $20-odd million to $260-odd million in 10 years and be comfortable around that.

"I’m not comfortable backing this plan and I’m quite certain there is going to be a good number of people who are not going to be happy to read this."

Council finance and assurance committee chairman Bruce Robertson said, via a Zoom call, the council had some significant and strategic challenges ahead.

"It’s tougher and slightly uncomfortable because of the challenges that we have around the level-of-service threats."

Mayor Rob Scott said 10-year planning was like trying to gaze into a crystal ball, but he believed the budget "landed in line with where things are going".

The council’s Three Waters requirements were difficult to manage with a population base of 600 people per wastewater plant compared with Auckland, which had 18 plants per 92,000 residents.

The council still had to provide the services, but did not have the population density to help pay for it.

"It’s a tough and uncomfortable position."

The job had been made more difficult by the uncertainty of which direction central government would take on Three Waters and road-funding provisions.

The report said $268m would be borrowed for the capital works programme and repaying $60m of debt.

"A large proportion of this debt is in relation to meeting compliance standards for our water and particularly our wastewater activities," Mr Scott said

The consultation period runs from June 5-July 5, with hearings between July 16-18.

By Toni McDonald