Hamiltonians will continue to receive the same services Hamilton City Council delivers now in coming years, and be asked to have a say on the rates increases needed to erase a deficit caused by significant cost increases.
Elected Members have landed on a draft 2024-34 Long-Term Plan budget that will see Council continue to provide what residents are getting now.
The starting point, jointly put forward by the Mayor and Chief Executive, had already cut $130 million of capital projects, to focus on the essentials, but still needed a significant revenue increase to balance the books.
“Unprecedented price hikes due to inflation, interest rates increases, and depreciation that goes towards looking after our city’s assets will next year alone cost Council an additional $54 million compared with previous forecasts," said Mayor Paula Southgate. "Then there are the unfunded mandates handed down at pace from the central government.
“If we’re to keep Hamilton running in the same way, and not let the city’s infrastructure or financial situation decline further, then those costs are unavoidable. I’m not going to burden future generations by kicking the can down the road.”
“I had originally proposed we could ease the pressure on ratepayers by spreading the cost across three years through an 18.6% increase ($9 per week for the median ratepayer)."
However, after much debate, Council put forward a new proposal to ‘balance the books’ next year (against a measure used by central government) with a rates increase of 25.5% ($13.90 per week for the median ratepayer), and transition to doing so against Council’s stricter measure (which seeks to meet everyday costs with everyday revenues) in 2025/26.
“The question is, how quickly do we balance the books. This is something we want to hear from the community on. I really feel for homeowners, businesses, and community organisations who are already struggling to keep up with the cost of living – and who will feel the impact of rates increases.” said Southgate.
Council also resolved to consult with the community on how it will fund additional community infrastructure and make the city more resilient to extreme weather – on top of the work that is paid for by the general rates increase.
But Mayor Paula Southgate said she wasn’t interested in adding rates on top of rates without community support for the projects.
“The proposed base budget prioritises essential services, as it should, but now we need to ask the community whether these additional projects warrant the funding too.
“That’s a decision Elected Members need to make with the community,” Mayor Southgate said.
The first of the citywide targeted rates could be used to invest in community infrastructure above what is included in the base budget, such as more sports park improvements, community building upgrades and playground renewals.
The second could fund projects to help Hamilton respond during extreme weather events and reduce the risk to the community from flooding, heatwaves, and storms.
For both of the potential targeted rates, the community will be asked whether the two new rates should be introduced, and the level they should be set at.
“These are projects that could provide lots of benefits to our people. But there’s only so much money to go around, and we need to decide if these are important enough to our city that they want to fund them,” Mayor Southgate said.
Consultation with the community on the draft Long-Term Plan will take place from mid-March to mid-April.