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Big calls for the council to make

Opinion Piece

Mayor Meng Foon and the whole of Gisborne District Council could be excused if they are approaching 2018 with an air of apprehension.

The council has big decisions to make in the coming year, many of them associated with the three-yearly review of the 10-year district plan — and requiring extensive consultation with the public.

Probably the most difficult is around the upgrade of the city’s wastewater treatment scheme, which is required by the resource consents it holds for the present discharges into Poverty Bay.

After wrestling with the issue for more than a year, the council decided in December to put an option out for consultation that has an estimated cost of $23 million and includes clarification and disinfection. It has deferred the wetland component of this option until a firm location and costings have been finalised.

While that is a practical move, it was a last-minute adjustment that will have been deeply disappointing for many residents. A Herald poll showed respondents were divided on the issue, with 46 percent in support and 48 percent against.

The response of iwi to the deferment is not known yet but it is crucial for the council. If iwi choose to go back to the Environment Court there is every chance they will be successful.

One of the prime reasons for the deferment was affordability and that is one that will have a major impact on the council’s other great headache — setting rates in the post 2-percent-maximum-rise environment of the past four years.

Councillors got a nasty shock when they learned the council was in deficit to the tune of $5.1m last year. That and other spending requirements mean ratepayers are looking at 5 percent rate rises for the next three years.

The council has wrestled with this in a number of workshops. Its final budget to be presented to the public is likely to spark reaction.

In fact, the council faces a long list of issues for consultation that will absorb a large part of its time in the first six months of the year. It will also be expected to show concrete progress on the Navigations Project and inner-harbour redevelopment.