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Kaipara Commissioner - John Robertson - Your Questions Answered - Funding plan key to grants

Over the past two weeks, commissioners and council staff have been hearing views from the community on both the council's Annual Plan (1 July 2013 to 30 June 2014), and the council's Long Term Plan. The latter Plan takes us through to 2022.

Council received some 321 submissions from members of the community, of which 133 submissions were of a generic nature from members of the Mangawhai Ratepayers and Residents Association.

Listening to submissions is a humbling experience. One meets the best of people from our District – people involved in community projects. We are fortunate in the District to have so many people so dedicated to assisting our communities.

Having considered the submissions, the commissioners made final decisions last week on council's Plans. As we did so, we were mindful of the fact that these are tough times for many ratepayers – whether they be farmers struck by the drought, small business people, or those on low incomes or pensions. We were keen to keep rate increases as low as possible, and to hold to the discipline of reducing rather than increasing debt.

We have erred on the side of caution this year with respect to cash grants to community organisations. We have done so for three reasons:
■ The pressure on ratepayers.
■ The need to get council’s books back in order.
■ The need to establish criteria to guide what is, and what is not, eligible for a community grant.

The latter point is important. Grants to community groups need to be guided by sound criteria and explicit requirements. Over recent years council has made sizeable grants to a number of community organisations – for instance grants to the Mangawhai Activity Zone and the Dargaville Cinema, each of $200,000. The Mangawhai Historical Society has been awarded grants of a similar size from the Mangawhai Endowment Fund for the museum project.

For grants of this size, a clear “business case” needs to be established. Council needs to see evidence of sound project management and a funding plan. We need to be convinced of the organisation’s ability to fund operational costs. These disciplines have not always been present in community governed projects, nor indeed in council governed projects like the Mangawhai Community Wastewater Scheme.

What amounts are in council’s budgets for community grants this coming year?
Commissioners have approved a community grants pool of $70,000 (figure to change according to commissioner deliberations) for the whole District. Grants for two regional organisations – Surf Lifesaving and Sport Northland – come out of this pool also, so council will not be making any large grants this year.

But don’t developers pay reserve contributions to pay towards community projects?
Yes. Reserve contributions are paid by developers and are created for District projects where these projects are located on council reserve land. The purposes for which these funds may be applied are listed in the District Plan. Council determines the projects to which these funds will be applied, guided by the Resource Management Act, the District Plan, and the needs of the District. As with any other expenditure, council will need to consider carefully how to apportion and when to apply reserve contributions.

Are these reserve contributions sitting in a separate bank account?
No, like the Mangawhai Endowment Fund, council reserves are not sitting as cash. If we spent these reserves today, we would need to fund this expenditure by raising debt. Commissioners have capped debt at $80 million, and until we see this begin to decline, we will not be drawing on these reserves.

When will council debt decline?
Under the plans adopted last week, council debt will decline to $50 million by 2022.  Right now, it is sitting just under $80 million.


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