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Submissions axed

AUTHOR Brian Mclachlan DATE 29 Apr 2017

Recent changes to the 2002 Local Government Act allows new ways for Councils to talk to their ratepayers and residents about how rates money was spent. Previously, each new council adopted a Long Term Plan which looked out ten years and was followed up with a more streamlined consultation each year, with an annual plan in-between where the financial spend and priorities could be tweaked. The process was repeated every three years.

Whangarei District Council has decided they will take advantage of this new law change and not consult on this year's annual plan. Some within council felt the process was drawn out, confusing and tied up too many resources, but it did one thing superbly well.  It enabled residents and ratepayers to have a voice and let councillors and staff know how they thought rates should be spent. The new policy has taken away the flexibility to take into account new ideas, plans and changes in circumstances.

The council has also stated that one of the rationale for not consulting is that there is no need for significant changes to the plan. This seems to be an autocratic and one wonders whose plan is it, anyway?

WDC has been silent on whether or not staff can make changes to the annual plan. One would expect that they can, as there will inevitably be changes in their priorities too.  Not allowing this would unnecessarily hamstring staff while, conversely, allowing them to make changes makes a mockery of the ‘no consultation, no changes’ direction.

Reassuring noises are being made about a deeper and earlier consultation process for the next ten ten-yearn, but that won’t provide the means for organisations with projects coming up in the next year or so to ask for funding.  That opportunity is gone.  While alterations made to Council budgets in past annual reviews may not have been major in the context of the overall expenditure, they nonetheless can be the difference between a community project moving forward or languishing in the dustbin.

Much has been made of the need for WDC to be smarter and more efficient in their consultation, but we live in a rapidly changing world and for many of our community groups and organisations, three years can be a very, very long time.This is a significant policy change and it’s been achieved with a minimum of fanfare. What

This is a significant policy change and it’s been achieved with a minimum of fanfare. What it  means for us, the residents and ratepayers, is that the opportunity to talk to Council and make changes on the way funding is allocated every year, is lost.  The irony is, we weren't consulted on this. I’m sure WDC did not make this decision lightly and it’s true that consultation takes up staff time and resources, but that is the price of democracy. And this year, democracy is the loser.

Brian Mclachlan served on the Whangarei District Council between and 2007 and 2016.

The views expressed are those of the author alone and may not reflect the views of Better! Whangarei.

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