In 2015 I presented a Long Term Plan for our city – a 10 year plan that is working well. Now we need to continue to the next phase.
Finances You Can Trust
When I took over as Mayor three years ago, I inherited an unworkable Long Term Plan, with forecast rate rises of nearly 10% and a backlog of infrastructure projects that was putting both our environment and economy at risk. Deferred projects and unrealistic budgets had pushed problems into future years. Rates and debt caps were set to be breached and change was needed urgently.
Through strong leadership and rigorous management of our finances I am proud to say Nelson’s plans now meet the test of financial prudence. Annual rates increases have been slashed from the projection of 9.6% I inherited, to 3.6% in 2015/16. Debt levels remain well within the caps, below what was projected, and any surpluses are now directed to debt repayment rather than being used as a short-term fix to fudge rate rises.
This year’s rates rise was to be 3.4% but we managed to make further savings and bring it in at 2.8%. And this is no election year stunt. We are now projecting annual rates rises at well below 3%, for at least the following 3 years, and this is without compromising our ongoing investment in pivotal projects connected with sport, recreation, the arts, social development and the environment. In fact, across the board I’ve shown that you can deliver more by thinking smarter and managing budgets carefully.
This result was achieved by:
- not taking extra rates for ‘just in case’ projects we ‘might want to think up’!!
- building an emergency fund.
- not transferring money from one activity area to pay for another. Money for stormwater pipes can’t be transferred to pay for a festival.
- requiring internal business cases to be undertaken for projects, with major project business cases coming to Council for consideration.
- setting priorities, which ensure we are able to focus on work that really makes a difference.
- aligning and timing scheduled work to gain the best use of skills and resources.
Now we’re operating like an organisation should when it’s responsible for $1.3 billion of assets – assets that belong to the residents and ratepayers of Nelson.
In the last year, the management and leadership of the city has, I am proud to say, earned an AA rating from Standard & Poor’s, the world’s leading credit agency. We’re in the very top tier of councils in New Zealand, and well ahead of the credit ratings for the major banks.
But we’ve still got areas to improve on. I want us to be continually looking for opportunities to use ratepayers’ money wisely and to deliver quality service. To this end, Nelson City Council has now been accepted as a Foundation Council in the Local Government Excellence Programme. The Programme incorporates a comprehensive, independent assessment system that will see councils assessed by an independent team of expert assessors. Each participating council will receive an overall rating and commentary on their performance, with the results made public.
I am keen to see our Council work towards best practice and to be transparent and accountable to you – the people of Nelson.