As we pass the shortest day and start thinking about spring, we still have a few challenges in front of us.
For us at the Waitaki District Council, and by default for you our ratepayers, one of those challenges is the NZ Transport Agency, known now as Waka Kotahi. The newer name means travelling in one vessel, or travelling together, but given recent events, it is difficult to see how that organisation is travelling with Waitaki.
As we were finalising our long-term plan, setting out our budgets for the next 10 years, our council was notified that the available funds were so tight at Waka Kotahi that they could only approve modest increases to our maintenance programmes, and very little else.
That same message was sent out to all councils across New Zealand and the reactions were immediate. All councils had to respond immediately by redoing their budgets, either cutting their planned work substantially, or funding it from different sources. Those different sources usually involve having to increase rates even further.
The consequences of not doing that would mean the standards of our roads would fall further, at a time when we want to improve the standard and deal with the impact of greater traffic and heavier vehicles.
If we look at the source of the problem, there are several causes.
One is the lower funding available through less fuel tax being gathered. Another is the diversion of the funding to cycle lanes and public transport. However, in rural areas such as Waitaki, the availability and practicality of cycling and public transport are much more limited compared to cities.
It seems that once again, rural and provincial New Zealand is missing out while cities get more.
Another issue with Waka Kotahi is the proposal to alleviate the flooding issue south of Oamaru when the Kakanui River floods State Highway 1 at Maheno.
We have asked for solutions to this issue, so we were pleased when the work was announced some time ago. But as often is the case, the devil is in the detail, and the consequence of the work being done to keep flood waters off the road means more water will flood the neighbouring properties. That is not a result any of us wanted.
As well as increased risks to homes, paddocks will be more likely to be flooded and the flooding will last longer. An example is the increased flooding of the Maheno Domain, including the Maheno Rugby Club rooms. Again, it risks being flooded more often and more severely. The solution is for the clubrooms to be raised to a sufficient height above the ground, but who will pay for that?
Instead of taking responsibility for the cost, Waka Kotahi is apparently talking to the Otago Community Trust to see if it would entertain an application for funding to do the work. To say I was gobsmacked to hear this would be an understatement!
The Otago Community Trust does a lot of wonderful work, using the community money it is entrusted with to help community groups do good projects and carry out good work across Otago. To think that a national organisation like Waka Kotahi can cause an issue in Waitaki that community money then has to fix is beyond belief!
It is time central government recognised the huge importance that rural New Zealand and the agricultural sector bring our country, and ensure the organisation has enough funding to help us solve the challenges we have.
If Waka Kotahi needs an injection of funds to play its part, then that would be a very good use of money to help every district in New Zealand.
Let’s hope that can happen, sooner rather than later.
- Gary Kircher is the Mayor for Waitaki