Councillors Approve Plan After Strong Support

16 April 2014

Wellington City Councillors this week agreed the city’s budget and plans for the coming year – including an average rates increase of 2.49 percent – following strong community support during consultation.

The proposals approved include changes that will assist developers and encourage the construction of better quality, environmentally-rated buildings, more earthquake-strengthening assistance; and significantly more money for cycling improvements.

The decisions made by the Council’s Governance, Finance and Planning Committee, which includes all Councillors, still need to be ratified at a Council meeting on 7 May.

Mayor Celia Wade-Brown says following last year’s election, Councillors committed to being an action-focussed Council that would respond to the issues facing the city and confirmation of the Annual Plan 2014-15 was a significant step forward.

“The Council’s growth agenda, including eight big ideas, will be further progressed during the development of the draft Long-term Plan 2015-25 later in the year. Our economic development and event funds confirmed this week also allow a certain agility of response.”

Mayor Wade-Brown says feedback from the public on the draft Annual Plan was very positive and showed clear support for most of the changes proposed.

“Feedback showed we are on the right track,” she says. “The decisions we have made today are about growing the economy, increasing our rating base, encouraging development, making the city more resilient to climate change and other disasters, protecting our built and natural heritage and improving transport choices.

“The fundamental needs of the city are being well met – for example our $406 million of operational spending includes $100 million for stormwater, drinking water and sewage services and almost $20 million for libraries. Our economic development funding, which includes events, city promotion and new projects, is significantly higher than four years ago.”

The plan includes several new initiatives to help ensure the Capital remains one of the world’s most liveable cities, while keeping borrowing and rates within limits set in the Council’s financial strategy.

These include:

  • lowering development contributions to help stimulate growth
  • a funding package to help owners earthquake-strengthen more buildings
  • tripling the cycling budget to help make travelling by bike safer and easier
  • additional funding for storm repairs on the south coast
  • more funding for Makara Peak Mountain Bike Park.

The Council has already adopted a living wage rate for staff directly employed by the Council and plans to extend this to parking staff when the service is brought in-house in July. It is also working with its council-controlled organisations to explore extending the living wage to their staff and looking at the legal and financial implications of whether this might be applied to Council contractors.

“It was gratifying to receive so many submissions congratulating us for taking steps to lift the wages of our lowest paid staff,” the Mayor says. “I also warmly received very strong support for the increased funding for cycling improvements, emphasising the message that came through loud and clear during last year’s election.

“We’re planning to spend $4.3 million on cycling improvements – necessary but modest in the context of the $37 million we spend on transport networks altogether.”

The vast majority of people who gave feedback on this year’s draft Annual Plan agreed with the proposal to increase the cycling budget.

Deputy Mayor Justin Lester, who chairs the Committee, says the Council had proposed removing funding for further upgrade work in Kilbirnie on Coutts Street between Bay Road and Onepu Road but Councillors decided this work should be progressed in the coming financial year.

“They also agreed to fund design and resource consent work for the proposed new Johnsonville Library and to provide $100,000 to assist with the citywide roll-out of a graffiti removal programme involving volunteers.

“This will bring our overall budget for graffiti removal to $570,000 and combined with existing funding for public art, including murals, will really brighten up our city.”

During the consultation on the draft plan, the Council received requests for funding to help with the redevelopment of the Museum of Wellington City & Sea and Clyde Quay Boat Harbour and the development of the proposed Ocean Exploration Centre.

So the Council can provide more support for these projects, contingent on a strong business case being made for them in coming months, Councillors agreed to put an additional $627,000 into its Economic Development Fund rather than boosting its contribution to the Regional Amenities Fund by this amount.

The Council will still make the biggest contribution to the regional fund, which was set up to provide top-up funding for attractions and events with regional benefits – contributing $609,200, the same amount as last year. The majority of councils in the region contribute to this fund but most want to increase their contribution more gradually than originally planned.

As well as being one of the first councils to agree its Annual Plan, this year was the quickest debate, with all decisions being made in one day.