Media release: Council disappointed and frustrated at budget shortfall

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Southland District Council is now reworking its numbers in its Long Term Plan 2021-2031 after receiving notice from Waka Kotahi NZ Transport Agency last week that it will not be providing all the funding requested by Council.

Council Mayor Gary Tong said Waka Kotahi informed Council last week it would fund only 85% of the planned roading and bridge programme for the first three years of the long term plan.

“Waka Kotahi provides 52% of our roading budget and we were informed last week it would fund only 85% of what we requested – $15 million less to work on our bridges and roading over the next three years. That means to do the same amount of work Council would need to find another $7.5 million from rates or reserves,” Mr Tong said.

Council did receive an increase in funding, but much below what was asked for and what Council believes it needs. This shortfall will mean some bridges are likely to need to close in the short to medium term and for longer and some roads will require long-term speed restrictions to manage deterioration as the work to maintain the roads and bridges to the standard they are now will be spread out longer.

“Councillors and staff are extremely unhappy and frustrated on behalf of our ratepayers about both the underfunding and the timing, as we were finalising our long term plan for audit and final adoption on 23 June,” Mr Tong said.

“We had a clear message from the plan consultation and hearings that our communities wanted their roads and bridges kept at least to the standard they are now, and although most were not happy with the proposed rate increase, they understood the need for it.

“The point was made strongly from submitters how difficult this rate increase would be for some of our ratepayers and they wanted us to be their voice saying this to Wellington,” he said.

“We will continue to remind others of the importance of our roading infrastructure and the contribution it makes to New Zealand’s economy through GDP and rural user charges, just to name a couple.”

Council had weighed up all of the feedback, along with all of the data, and after deliberations in May, had decided to continue with the proposed roading and bridge plans and the 10.15% rate increase because of the district’s need to do this work.

“Council is very frustrated with this process and will be talking further with Waka Kotahi and the Government. The timing, in particular, is a major issue for us as we had worked hard to have a long term plan that addressed the challenges around roading and bridges and it was nearly completed,” Mr Tong said.

“Staff are flat-out adjusting the long term plan to fit the funding we have received while still trying to maintain levels of service over the whole 10 years. We will work hard to do as much work as we can to maintain those levels,” he said.

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