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Wellington City Council agrees on 13.5 per cent rates rise

Wellington City councillors have agreed on their Long Term Plan, a budget of infrastructure, resulting in a 13.5 per cent rates rise for the incoming year.

The capital is facing myriad cost pressures including ageing water pipes, insurance hikes, seismic issues, transport plans and its social housing portfolio.

They come on top of the economic fallout from the Covid-19 pandemic.

Over the next 10 years $2.7b will be spent on the city’s Three Waters network.

Business as usual capital expenditure for the pipes has increased by a third compared to what was in the previous Long Term Plan.

The council’s climate change action plan, Te Atakura – First to Zero, is also fully funded at a cost of $27m.

This will support initiatives like converting the council’s vehicle fleet to electric cars and greening building projects.

Big transport spends will also do a lot in the climate change space.

Councillors today decided to increase spending on the city’s cycleway network by $120m to a total of $226m.

As well as this, $220m is budgeted over the next 10 years for Let’s Get Wellington Moving to deliver better walking and cycling and bus priority measures.

Business cases on bigger projects like a second Mt Victoria Tunnel and Mass Rapid Transit are yet to be completed making it impossible for the council to budget for them yet.

In Te Ngākau Civic Square, the Civic Administration Building and Municipal Office building will be demolished due to seismic issues at a cost of about $5m each.

The closed central library will be earthquake strengthened at a cost of $187.4m.

Additions to the budget

Additional funding requests were made after the budget was consulted on, which meant the proposed 13.5 per cent rates increase ballooned to almost 16 per cent.

One of those requests was $7.7m over three years for city safety improvements.

This is part of the Pōneke Promise, a social contract between Wellington hospitality workers, retailers and police.

Today, councillor Laurie Foon also successfully passed an amendment to reinstate $6.5 million for the Frank Kitts Park development, which includes the Chinese garden.

Officers have also been directed to work with the Chinese Garden Society to explore whether a gateway entrance, or a Pai Lau, can be installed early.

Foster voted in favour of reinstating the funding, even though he was the one who initially pulled it out.

In response to these additions to the budget, cost savings have subsequently been found to get the rates increase back down to 13.5 per cent.

This was done through measures including organisational savings, removing the Building Resilience Fund, and the extension of Covid-19 debtrepayments and weathertight homes repayments.

The extra $120m spent on cycle ways will affect rates in the outer years of the plan, but has little impact on the incoming year.

What councillors and the mayor have to say about the budget

Mayor Andy Foster has called the council’s Long Term Plan the resilience and infrastructure budget.

“This is by far the most challenging budget that I have ever seen, and I’ve seen a few.”

He told councillors it was the biggest capital programme the council has ever undertaken.

Foster acknowledged councillors were never going to agree on everything, but said most have reached a point where they could live with the agreed budget.

Councillor Fleur Fitzsimons said the budget backed basic core infrastructure.

“What we can see around our city is that water infrastructure is failing and we’ve had a clear message from Wellingtonians to make sure the basics of our city are running properly.”

Councillor Nicola Young, whose key priorities are lowering rates and investing in water infrastructure, said there were some really good things in the Long Term Plan as well as some “batshit” ones.

Councillor Diane Calvert said today’s deliberation was a spaghetti junction of amendments.

“Since consultation we had an opportunity to actually build some consensus through the leadership of the Mayor. It hasn’t happened.”

She said the extra $120m spend on the cycle way programme was committed to without thinking whether it could be better spent on housing or water infrastructure.

Big win for cycling

Earlier in the meeting, climate change portfolio leader councillor Tamatha Paul brought an amendment for the council to adopt the full accelerated investment programme for cycleways. This is a $226m spend on the network.

Councillors Calvert, Young, Simon Woolf, Malcolm Sparrow and mayor Foster voted against committing to this option.

The amendment included bringing forward $52m of capex into years 1-3 of the budget.

It asks for council officials to report back on an accelerated delivery of cycleways to create a temporary network across the city using things like paint, hit sticks, and rubber connections.

Paul’s amendment includes $14m for fixing the botched cycleway in Island Bay.

Jen Lawless addressed councillors ahead of their decision-making to talk about her brother Ben.

“Ben can’t be here today because 10 years ago he was killed by a careless driver in Karori when he was cycling home to Mount Cook.”

Lawless said the only option on the table which delivered the full programme was the $226m one.

“This is also the only option which will deliver a cycling network Ben would have taken that night, from his house in Mount Cook and back all the way out west to Karori.”

Southern Ward councillor Fleur Fitzsimons supported Paul’s amendment but cautioned against doing cycleways too quickly, making reference to the current state of Island Bay.

“It divided and shocked a community.”

Paul said undertaking a report on accelerated delivery should address any “allergic reaction”.

Mayor's 1.25am alert

Wellington mayor Andy Foster sent councillors a raft of last minute changes to the 10-year-budget at 1.25am this morning, much to everyone’s exhaustion and concern.

Councillor Diane Calvert responded to the mayor’s email: “You just don’t get it. Too little, too late.”

She said in another email to Foster the whole budget process has caused far more angst for everyone than it should have.

“Sending an email at 1.25am on the day of the debate proposing substantive amendments to your paper and little communication with elected members is alarming.”

Calvert suggested laying the paper on the table to reach a consensus through discussion rather than “through an ultimatum placed over” the mayor.

Councillor Jill Day also responded saying the changes were hard to track.

“This feels like deja vu and is terrible governance.”

Foster responded to both councillors saying all the issues have been pre-signalled, well canvassed and were familiar to everyone.

“All I am doing is formatting everything to make for an efficient meeting and reduce the number of amendments,” he said.

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