WRC Long Term Plan submission

WRC Long Term Plan submission

Submission on the Waikato Regional Council LTP

Primary Land Users Group (PLUG)

 Reading through the WRC Make your Waikato even better: Tō Waikato, kia wana Consultation document 2021-2031 Long Term Plan I Mahere Whanui, we see the 10 year strategy is focussed on the strategic priorities: Biodiversity and Biosecurity, Coastal and Marine, Sustainable Infrastructure, Transport Connections, Water and Climate.

Our submission isn’t about whether the 10 year strategy is either right or wrong in its priorities, but focuses on the cost of compliance and bureaucracy to meet the standards that you are seeking through the requirements of the new LTP, and the associated financial burden these will place on the ratepayers of the Waikato Region.

An example around costs of compliance and bureaucracy from the ratepayers of Pokeno:

Some of our members recently attended a Waikato District Council consultation meeting in Pokeno regarding the WDC LTP. This consultation meeting became quite heated with the public/ratepayers telling the Council that the township’s residents earn an average salary/wage of approximately $70,000 gross and the proposed rate rises are unaffordable for most ratepayers. It was stated that the cost of regulatory and bureaucratic compliance is putting such financial pressures on Council that they have to pass this onto the ratepayers and these costs are one of the main reasons that the rate rises have become unaffordable for ratepayers. 

These District Council ratepayers who are also Regional Council ratepayers are just getting by now. But the proposed rate increases by both Councils effectively make a large increase in their fixed costs which has not been matched by an increase in the average wage. Most of the ratepayers have only received an average wage increase of approximately 1%. The combined increases in rates demands across both District and Regional Councils is placing such a financial burden on them that many are really fearful of how they are going to be able to meet these increased financial commitments.

The Regional Council has been in existence for approximately three decades. During this time it has grown in size. It has also had the opportunity to gain more support from: the Ministry for the Environment; the learnings from other Councils; the advances from new technologies; and research conducted by Universities and Crown Research Institutes.

For any well run organisation expanding over time, we would expect there to be economics of scale and learning by doing. We would expect the average cost of each unit of service to have decreased in real terms even if there is a nominal change in cost. It is time for the Regional Council to be explicit about its strategies to become more efficient; report on progress made; and demonstrate this by lowering the cost of service provision though time.

The lack of commitment to efficiency adversely impacts the community. The cost of bureaucratic and regulatory compliance that is required before any citizen, business, farm, or organisation plan or commence any project requiring Regional Council approval is excessive. There are direct compliance costs, indirect compliance costs; and cost associated with delay. This is an extra burden on the ratepayer and economy as these inflationary pressures delay progress and reduce community wellbeing. 

Sure, the world says embrace technology and it will make it easier and cheaper to do business, but it seems with all the technology that is at hand for the WRC to use, there appears to be a reluctance to use this capability to its fullest extent as the bureaucracy keeps growing. It appears that every time a new project or new policy is implemented there is a requirement for more staff to be employed or for more contractors.

An example of this increasing bureaucracy is shown in the monitoring of water use by everyone who uses over a certain volume. You require all consent holders to supply information to WRC to monitor their consents etc which I think is right.  But when they do report back to the WRC, then you have someone employed to manually go over that data to make sure it’s right. Can’t technology be programmed to check this data reporting and identify any anomalies thus reducing the costs?

Another example of increasing costs is the operating budget for the Motukaraka drainage scheme which siphons water from the Maramarua River into the Kopuera Stream to maintain water levels to maintain peat shrinkage. It started off at about $70,000 3 years ago then went to $140,000 2 years ago now it is at $300,000.

The concern that we have is that the people who are your ratepayers (We would call them your shareholders and these shareholders) provide the information to you at no cost but you charge for use of this information.

This increase in the bureaucratic and regulatory compliance is not just at the level of individuals and individual businesses and organisations. It is particularly significant in the case of major infrastructure projects either new projects or upgrades/maintenance where the Council is now finding that the actual overall costs of projects have risen as a result of these compliance requirements, with no actual tangible benefits in either quality or economics.

Effectively the increases in compliance costs mean that the Council is only able to do less actual work for the same amount of money and therefore they have to increase rates to even just maintain the current levels of Infrastructure provision and maintenance.

Given the predicted levels of population increase there will be a requirement for significantly more infrastructure and this increase in demand can only lead to significant increases in rates unless a way is found to successfully eliminate some of the non-productive compliance costs. Addressing these efficiency challenges will improve outcomes, enhance community relationships and will build respect for the Council. It will also build resilience for the organisation and community if we are ever to face any unexpected calamity.

We respectively recommend that:

  1. the 2021-2031 long term plan include explicit strategies for improving the efficiency of the Council;
  2. That it implements the strategies for improving Council efficiency;
  3. That the efficiency of Council processes, especially pertaining to permitting and consenting processes, be reported and audited by an external professional party that is not also comprised by Waikato Regional Council contracts or relationships;
  4. That where issues of Council inefficiency are identified the Council proactively address them and advise the public;
  5. That Council regular report Staff FTE and Staff and consultant costs per rate payer and report this information on a quarterly basis; and
  6. That Council review staff training, and organisation processes so that productivity improvements occur within the Council.