Emergency Scheme Gets Late Annual Plan Vote

28 March 2011

Wellington City Council has voted unanimously to propose $120,000 in spending to improve community emergency preparedness. The spending was a late addition to the Council's proposed 2011/12 budget which will now be the subject of public consultation.

If this year's Draft Annual Plan is approved, average rates will rise 4.40 percent, with residential rates for an average Wellington increasing 6.24 percent and 1.22 percent for commercial property owners.

The public is invited to submit their views on the plan between 11 April and 12 May, with public hearings from 17 - 25 May.

After listening to feedback and considering submissions, the Council will adopt a final position on 29 June.

Mayor Celia Wade-Brown says the draft plan is about balance. "It acknowledges the difficult economic times with some modest savings and service cuts - to ensure the rates increase is more affordable - while continuing to invest in infrastructure and maintaining the wide range of essential services that the Council provides every day."

The Council's budget is under significant pressure as a result of a number of factors including the economic situation, Wellington's leaky homes liability, significant inflation of costs of materials including oil-based products and fuel, interest and depreciation costs on Council assets and the potential economic impact of the Canterbury earthquake.

The community emergency management initiative, moved by Cr Stephanie Cook, seconded by Cr Ian McKinnon and strongly supported by Mayor Wade-Brown at last Thursday's Council meeting, was, according to Cr Cook, a "direct response to community concerns raised since the Christchurch and Japan quakes".

Cr Cook said it was important to include the $120,000 in the draft annual plan to give the public the chance to have their say on how the money should be spent and put forward some innovative ideas on neighbourhood preparedness.

Mayor Wade-Brown said the spending on neighbourhood resilience would be appropriate "given that we will depend on our neighbours so much in a big emergency.''

Council managers have been asked, as a result of last week's vote, to investigate the potential for:

  • The provision of portable emergency toilets for households
  • The provision of large, but cheap, containers to help households collect and store rainwater
  • 'Self-contained' public toilets around the city - ie toilets that can continue to operate safely even if the sewerage infrastructure is out of action
  • More blue tsunami 'alert' lines around the city - like those painted recently on roads in Island Bay
  • Higher-profile disaster-simulation exercises.

Managers have been asked to report back to the Council on these initiatives by June this year.

The Council also proposes to spend $22 million on critical infrastructure for the city's water, stormwater and wastewater network, which includes the building of new quake-resistant reservoirs at Messines Road in Karori and Prince of Wales Park.

Old water pipes will continue to be replaced with quake-resistant materials under a programme begun 15 years ago. The Council also aims to accelerate design work on quake-strengthening the 1950s Municipal Office Building in Civic Square, the adjoining Town Hall and other council-owned buildings.

"It is important that we continue to invest in critical infrastructure and improve the resilience of our network of water pipes so that we as a city are better prepared to cope with and recover from a significant seismic event," Mayor Wade-Brown says.

Councillors agreed to take the final step in honouring a commitment made 10 years ago to bring down the general rates differential - the difference in the rates share shouldered by commercial and residential ratepayers - from 7.1:1 to 2.8:1. The Council has been gradually closing the differential gap each year since 2000/01.

Councillors also voted to consult the public on a $650,000 feasibility study on the construction and design of a new deepwater swimming pool complex at Kilbirnie, a long-term project expected to cost more than $18 million.

Proposed savings include:

  • $105,000 by reducing operating hours at the Central Library - rather than closing at 8.30pm on week days the library would close at 7.00pm, plus closing an information desk and  providing international newspapers in digital format only.
  • $500,000 by spreading over four years the grants fund to help local schools to upgrade existing swimming pools to improve access to learn to swim and aquatic sports
  • $170,000 by reducing the size of Council-controlled company Wellington Waterfront Ltd
  • $108,000 in sportsfield maintenance made possible by new artificial surfaces
  • $100,000 by deferring some hazardous tree removals
  • $100,000 by deferring the demolition of the old Patent Slip jetty in Evans Bay.

Because many services are heavily subsidised by rates, councillors have proposed a modest increase in some fees to avoid a higher rates rise.  Proposed increases in fees and charges include:

  • 18 percent increase in sportsfield user charges (excluding the Berhampore Golf Course)
  • 5 percent increase in landfill fees and household rubbish bags
  • 2.5 percent increase in swimming pool general admissions and learn-to-swim charges
  • 6 percent rise in burial and cremation fees
  • $1 an hour increase in parking rates and extending evening paid parking times on weekdays.

Despite introducing austerity measures, the Council proposes to invest $152 million in capital projects, including $45 million on community housing, upgrades and new houses and $36 million on roads, footpaths and cycle ways.

And in the next financial year the Council proposes to spend another $134 million on essential services for Wellingtonians:

  • $54 million on managing and maintaining its water, stormwater and sewage networks
  • $21.2 million on libraries
  • $10 million on waste management and recycling
  • $8.3 million on the city's galleries and museums
  • $18.6 million on swimming pools
  • $9.1 million on recreation centres
  • $4.4 million on the Town Belt
  • $3.5 million on sportsfields
  • $2.9 million on community centres and halls
  • $2.3 million on arts and cultural festivals.

The Mayor encouraged Wellingtonians to have their say on the draft plan and to "tell us whether they are the right savings in these times, whether we have gone far enough or whether there are other opportunities for savings that you think we should explore."