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Treatment fast-track, with rates concerns

Despite concerns about financial implications for ratepayers and the council, plans to fast-track the $24 million disinfection stage of its wastewater treatment upgrade were adopted by Gisborne District Council yesterday.

The move, an about-turn on a key decision in the 2018-2028 Long-Term Plan (LTP), means average rates rises will be at or just under the maximum 5 percent of the council’s financial strategy for the next five years.

After a presentation from chief financial officer Pauline Foreman, the council resolved to fast-forward this project, pre-funding $100,000 in the 2019/20 annual plan and up to $600,000 in year three of the LTP. It will also review the prioritisation of projects through the life of the 2021-2031 LTP.

The decision report for councillors said the estimated cost of the project would be $23.7m rather than the $24.4m estimate in the LTP, due to lower inflation costs and lower consenting costs.

Pat Seymour asked for assurances about lower consenting costs.

She said the council had spent two hours the previous day with a consulting firm named in the report on why “we had got so far overspent” on another project where it had been involved in the early design stages.

It did bother her that some of the basis for the assumptions in the report before the council were based on the same potentially less-than-well-costed or well-planned level of design.

The report also said a significant assumption for the estimated cost was that it could be 15 percent less, or up to 25 percent more — this was a 40 percent variance.

Shannon Dowsing agreed with councillor Seymour’s concerns over the financials. However, this was the process, they were bringing it forward so they could go into detailed design and move on from there.

Mayor Meng Foon said the council could take heart in that it had done the original wastewater plant and the library build, so there was continuous improvement in processes and identification.

'There's a need to see that no waste goes into the bay'Meredith Akuhata-Brown said there should not be any stalling, there was a need to see that no waste went into the bay.

For some, the bay was their fridge. The council had to stop toing and froing and realise the absolute need to prioritise this.

Some things that were nice-to-have would have to just wait, because the council would meet more of the region’s needs by saying yes to this.

Brian Wilson, chairman of the finance and audit committee, issued a word of caution.

The expectation was that by bringing the funding forward, the rates would drop in the outlying years of the LTP. But the experience was that when you got to three years into your 10-year plan, you suddenly found there were a whole lot more costs, he said.

The reprioritisation of projects might be difficult. He suspected there might not be too many that could be repriortised.

“Let’s go into this with our eyes open,” he said.

This was a necessary cost to ratepayers.

The council had mucked around with this for too long.

“I believe we do have to get on with it and we just have to face the fact that it is going to cost us money,” he said.

“I support the recommendations but let’s not think this is going to be a silver bullet.”

Amber Dunn said this needed to happen to protect public health. Wastewater treatment had been put back and delayed. Today the council was saying it wanted it to be one of its biggest priorities.

Karen Fenn said the council understood that fast-tracking the process would be a cost to ratepayers, but it would cost more if it did not do everything it could. She was also keen to see alternative use and disposal of wastewater pushed forward.

Mr Foon said this was not necessarily a cost, it was an investment in the community and the environment. He also wanted to promote the issue of removing mortuary waste from the wastewater stream.

Bill Burdett said the council needed someone to oversee this project, as former engineering and works manager Peter Higgs had done on the existing plant — bringing it in on time and under budget.

See also today's editorial

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