Year bringing challenges for mayor, council

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As glad as we all were to see 2020 finally end, the first couple of weeks of 2021 have not been much better. Kayla Hodge sits down with Mayor Gary Kircher to find out what is in store for the Waitaki district this year.

It was a start to the new year nobody saw coming.

Rain caused havoc as the district flooded, roads washed away and campgrounds were evacuated. Contractors and the NZ Transport Agency have since repaired the roads, including Parsons Creek Bridge near Otematata, and Waitaki Mayor Gary Kircher praised their ability to work quickly with limited staff.

Recovery expenses were expected to reach the six-figure mark, and NZ Transport Agency’s costs alone would be between $200,000 and $300,000, Mr Kircher said.

Two sections of the Alps 2 Ocean cycle trail were damaged, with diversions or extreme care warnings in place, and the Duntroon Domain, one of the worst-hit areas, had required a major clean-up.

“But it’s a community that really pulls together – when talking about recovery you get some really proactive communities,” Mr Kircher said.

The year is shaping up to be a big one for the Waitaki District Council plans are due, a by-election for the Waihemo ward seat will be held, and a new chief executive and other senior managers will be appointed.

Consultation on the long-term plan will begin in late March or early April, and it will be adopted by the council at the end of June.

“Our team’s worked really hard to get everything through as quickly as possible. We still have a fair amount of work to do on the long term plan before we can go out for consultation for the public.”

One project the community could expect to see in the long-term plan was a proposal for a sports and events centre.

“We’re just trying to knock the project into enough of a shape that we can put it into the long-term plan, and then say and how much it’s going to cost’.”

Two meetings were held late last year regarding its possibility and key stakeholders were engaged in the process.

Mr Kircher said those discussions were important to decide the scope of the project, and determine its costs, including external funders.

A committee was yet to be formed, but he expected there would be a project group with a mixture of council and community members, and a wider advisory group.

The council would also hold a by-election for the Waihemo ward seat after former councillor Peter Newton resigned in December.

Nominations open on Monday and close on February 15.

Polling would be held on April 13, and results would be released on April 16.

However if there was only one nomination, the position would be filled earlier, as voting would not be required, Mr Kircher said.

“It’s a democratic process and the main thing is that we end up with a really good representative for the people in the Waihemo ward.”

Oamaru ward councillor Kelli Williams was acting as a “buddy councillor” for Waihemo in the interim.

“It’s just about making sure the ward and the community board is looked after and they’re not feeling like they don’t have the same voice around the table,” Mr Kircher said.

There would be further changes at the council as three members of the executive team have stepped down from their positions.

Chief executive Fergus Power would leave on June 4, and Mr Kircher said the council began advertising the position this week.

He was optimistic about the recruitment process.

“There’s been some good results with opportunities for Kiwis to come back to New Zealand, as well as people in New Zealand applying. We are certainly hoping we are going to get a very good calibre of applicant.”

Assets group manager Neil Jorgensen and heritage, planning and regulatory group manager Lichelle Guyan were also leaving the council.

“The opportunity there is, if we’ve got some internal people who can act in those roles once those incumbents leave, that allows the new CE to come in and build his or her new exec team themselves. It’s sad on one hand, but it’s an opportunity on the other.”

After a “really mixed bag” last year, Mr Kircher hoped the council would continue building on its successes – opening a new section of Alps 2 Ocean cycle trail, Waitaki District Health Services progress, the Oamaru Harbour Plan 2020 and Beyond, reopening of the Waitaki Museum and Archive and installing new Christmas trees.