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Rotorua District Residents and Ratepayers

12 May 2023


This is the Rotorua District Residents and Ratepayers’ (RDRRs’) submission to the Rotorua Lakes Council (RLC) regarding its Draft Annual Plan 2023/24. It incorporates feedback obtained by email and comments to one preliminary and two draft submissions at RDRR’s Facebook from 163 members, associates, and friends. 

The RDRR was launched on 25 September 2015 and today speaks for 1,079 members, associates, and friends.

Executive Summary

The 2023/24 financial year marks Year 3 of the 2021-31 Long-term Plan (LTP). The RDRR supports the RLC’s decision to change their original Year 3 plans due to significant changes in the internal and external operating environment.

In RDRR’s view, the internal operating environment of the RLC was significantly altered by the October 2022 local elections, resulting in a swing away from profligate expenditure to achieve ideological ends towards pragmatic local government marked by greater austerity to “stop the spend”.

However, there has been little change to the purposes, style, structures, and costs of RLC’s administration or moves to retire an inherited debt of about $300 million.

It is also RDRR’s view that the external operating environment of the RLC has changed dramatically due to at least five factors, including Covid-19, a surge in inflation, an imposed homeless industry retarding the recovery of Rotorua’s tourism industry, growing elder poverty, and the imminent prospect of a Depression.

The RLC’s annual planning process had four major flaws; the continued use of illegal public-excluded workshops, initially discriminating against urban employed citizens during consultations, the absence of systematic evaluation, and ignoring the external context.

The RDRR recommends revising the proposed Annual Plan to include a sophisticated research-based model of the affordability of any rate rises to ratepayers (with special reference to elder poverty), a debt reduction strategy, anticipate the coming Depression, deliver measurable results against the RLC’s priorities, clarify proposed operational expenditure (opex) for 2023/24 compared to the previous two years, and include the fully costed plans of the Council Controlled Organisations (CCOs).

The RLC’s ‘top priorities’ require substantial revision, especially the currently first priority, housing. The RDRR urges elected members to accept that social housing is not a local government responsibility and instead overhaul the pensioner flats programme, including its budget. The second priority, community safety, needs more action research to restore law and order on the streets, not an information campaign intended to manipulate public perceptions. The third priority, economic development, requires details on how RotoruaNZ will create jobs and revitalize the inner city and Fenton Street. The fourth priority, infrastructure, requires professional planning, technological reliability, safety, and resilience to climate change. Overall, however, there needs to be a caste-iron commitment by elected members and the CE to minimising any rise in rates and delivering a surplus.  

The RLC needs to develop a statement of values that has internal coherence, genuine partnerships with all legitimate stakeholder groups, and adopt values in its policies that have external coherence with the law.

The RDRR recommends revisiting the necessity of paying six DCE salaries for group management roles, when four would probably suffice, and suggests alternatives to the bureaucratic approach to organization while promoting public accountability and a learning culture in the RLC. The RDRR has no confidence that appropriate reforms can or will be achieved by the current administration.

To meet budget challenges, in order to achieve a surplus, the RDRR supports most proposals, such as increasing fees and charges, removing the cap on consenting fees, and reducing service quality in certain areas.

In addition, the RDRR suggests implementing free parking in the CBD to boost turnover, fully commercializing the Sir Howard Morrison Centre, and deferring all Community Wellbeing Investment allocations, except Ngongotahā’s hanging baskets and the Citizens Advice Bureau subsidy. The RDRR also recommends revising Rotorua’s bus service business model, ending support for certain organizations in Events Attraction and Delivery and cancelling the RLC’s membership of Local Government New Zealand.

Regarding proposed capital works, the RDRR supports the upgrades underway of the Wastewater Treatment Plant, Aquatic Centre, and Linton Park Stormwater infrastructure, considers the new Organic Waste Collection Service timely and appropriate, and yet to achieve a surplus budget to help anticipate the coming Depression, recommends:

  • pausing any funding allocation to the restoration of the Museum until the four identified options and others are more fully clarified by external experts, costed by qualified and experienced quantity surveyors, and residents and ratepayers are consulted,
  • reviewing the proposed Information Solutions Improvements and Information Technology budgets in the light of the staff departures,
  • deferring the Tarawera Sewage Scheme Stage 2 budget until residents are provided with more accurate forecasts of connection charges, ratepayers are provided with more accurate estimates of connection subsidies consistent with past practice, and residents and ratepayers are consulted, and
  • developing a surplus budget as part of a new debt reduction strategy.

In general, the RDRR supports proposals to increase fees and charges, adopt stepped refunds for resource management fees, remove the cap on consenting fees, reduce service levels and pause improvement projects. There are concerns about the lack of consideration given to market dynamics, especially parking in the CBD.

To summarise, one respondent spoke for many:

I acknowledge that the current Council has inherited a significant, irresponsible fiscal legacy from the previous administration, and as such, I am sympathetic to the dilemma that the current Council administration is in.  There are multiple capital works projects that have been committed to needlessly, or questionably, and many special interest groups that have become accustomed to a certain level of funding and influence. 

However, I believe the current Council is failing to address the core financial (and political) issues that we-the-ratepayers face in the consultation document.  The Council are looking to save pennies when they should be looking to save pounds.  As such, I direct that this annual plan be re-visited with a view to reduce the frivolous and non-essential large expenses, rather than try to claw back a handful of small sums when the few large ones are the problem.

It is not enough, in RDRR’s view, to ‘stop the spend’ in 2023/24 without a longer-term aim of achieving a surplus and holding rates where they are to begin the process of reducing the Council’s inherited debt.

Limitations of the Annual Planning Process

The Annual Plan consultation process was flawed in four ways.

The first flaw became evident when Reporoa and Mamaku communities were provided with after-work consultation sessions whereas City residents and ratepayers initially were not. This discriminated against urban employed people.

RDRR’s offer to co-host an after-work session in Rotorua city was not given the courtesy of a response. It did, however, prompt Council officials to offer after-work sessions in city settings.

It therefore appears that there are senior officials responsible for supporting Council’s democratic processes who are yet to accept that their arbitration and provision of consultation opportunities is tactical instead of principled, or that their supervision by the Chief Executive (CE) is inadequate, or both. All three possibilities are unacceptable.

The second problem with the annual planning process are that its three methodological flaws render outcomes less trustworthy that they should be. A combination of omissions and limitations effectively undermines the reliability of proposals.

The annual planning process lacks a rigorous evaluation of the organisation’s achievements against the previous Annual Plan. It also proceeds without an evidenced-based appreciation of the RLC’s Strengths, Weaknesses, Opportunities and Threats (SWOT). In addition, the underdeveloped aims of the plan are deliberately restricted by reference to the minimal legislated requirements.[1] The annual planning process needs to be overhauled.

One respondent illustrated the long-term consequences when he recalled how

Council paid a fortune to provide bike access through the heart of the retail and commercial areas. What a total waste of funds …. How many retailers went broke? In today’s economic situation it is not only a disaster for the retailers but also for the general tenure of the retail areas in Rotorua. Somewhere there needs to be a better “contact with community” rather than a small group who make these decisions without direct communications will ALL affected parties before pushing the green button …. We cannot afford these sorts of things being repeated. We need to tighten up our distribution of contacts prior to commencing new projects and ensure there is direct communication with affected parties for all such initiatives.

One immediate implication is that far greater expertise in annual planning is urgently required and may have been overlooked. One reason could be that the sole criterion used to evaluate the annual performance of the CE – the absence of a successful judicial review – is obviously inadequate. Until the omissions, limitations and implications identified in the annual planning process are remedied, the methodological flaws will continue to undermine the reliability of proposals and disable organisational evaluation, learning and leadership.

The third flaw is that one of the planning processes used is illegal. A respondent pointed to the offensive and illegal habit Council has of defaulting to public-excluded planning workshops:

It is the ratepayers right to know what is being decided in Council. That’s democracy and all on Council need to understand that and cease secret meetings.

The Ombudsman has agreed and clarified the law with precision:

Local bodies are not allowed to exclude the public from meetings so they can hold free and frank discussions behind closed doors.[2]

Residents and ratepayers should be able to rely on the moral integrity of elected members and senior officials to adhere with the law without having self-fund legal action to gain compliance. In particular they call on the Mayor to offer moral leadership by contracting external specialist legal advice on annual planning processes to eliminate illegal practices that have become deeply embedded over the last nine years.

The fourth flaw is that the Draft Annual Plan lacks a sophisticated analysis of the current situation and context being faced by the RLC, an analysis that should have provided a rationale for the Plan. It appears to RDRR members that although some of the elected members and planning officials don’t know what they don’t know, they continue to prefer their inherited assumptions rather than value and enable critical feedback and external expertise.

Hence, the “key elements” of the Draft 2023/24 Annual Plan are claimed to be about “refocussing spending to ensure it can deliver well on projects and services that are absolutely necessary, in a cost-effective way.” RLC’s “draft plan proposes changes to council services, stopping or pausing spending in some areas and proposes increasing fees and charges to cover rising costs, increase revenue and reduce reliance on rates to pay for these services.” RDRR members recognise this approach as being consistent with the political slogan of ‘stop the spend’ and support the sentiment but regard it as simplistic.

The slogan ingratiates a planning methodology that was primarily concerned with financial management tactics using past assumptions and commitments and excluded consideration of strategic conditions in the external context as well as local subtleties.

Ignoring the need to prepare for a coming Depression by holding rates and retiring debt is an example of the former. To illustrate the latter, the RLC continues to spend on ‘upgrading’ the Hannah’s Bay Reserve with unneeded conversions without support from local residents and ratepayers. Another example to do with Baxendale will be provided to conclude this submission.

In sum, while RDRR strongly supports austerity in general as being an appropriate response in extremely difficult financial circumstances, it would urge elected members to develop, or insist that the CE develop:

  • a sophisticated research-based appreciation of the affordability of any rate rises to ratepayers, with special reference to elder poverty,
  • a debt reduction strategy,
  • a strategic anticipation of the coming Depression,
  • rigorous methods of achieving the first aim of the Draft Annual Plan – to deliver measurable results against the Council’s priorities,
  • a summary of proposed operational expenditure (opex) for 2023/24 compared to each of the previous two years’ opex, to clarify trends in commitments, and above all
  • avoid a rates rise if possible and achieve a surplus in 2023/24.

The following sections indicate the extent to which RDRR members support or question the more detailed content of the RLC’s Draft Annual Plan.[3]

The Aims of the Draft Annual Plan

The first aim of the Draft Annual Plan was to “deliver measurable results against the Council’s priorities.” The RLC’s four Top Priorities for 20123/24 are provided below. None of them have criteria and processes for delivering measured results.

This suggests that the first aim is implausible rhetoric unless comprehensively and systematically implemented by the CE at the direction of and to the satisfaction of elected members.

The second aim is to “consolidate some work programmes and focus on doing the essentials well.” This appears to be an appropriately pragmatic response to what RDRR consider key challenges in Rotorua District’s local government noted above. On the other hand, this response implies that all RLC work programmes and projects will need to develop measurable Key Performance Indicators (KPIs) that specify “essentials.” In RDRR’s view, this would be very helpful in a context where the outcomes of the previous Annual Plan were not publicly evaluated against their objectives.

The third aim, to “generate alternative sources of revenue, removing a reliance on rates as a source of funding for the majority of council services” is considered by RDRR to be mission critical to Council.

Given the over-50 per cent rise in rates take over the last nine years, and the negligible remaining elasticity in the affordability of further rates rises to ratepayers, any rates rise will add directly to elder poverty, and accordingly, must be avoided. The persistent refusal by senior officials to model the affordability of rates rises to ratepayers for the last nine years must now be challenged by elected members as morally reprehensible.

The fourth aim, to “demonstrate prudent financial management (rates, capital expenditure and borrowing)” is essential to the achievement of all other aims and should be taken for granted. However, in the absence of criteria and process for demonstrating prudence, and long-standing refusal of Council’s financial managers to model the affordability of rates to ratepayers, this aim could be little more than cynical virtue signalling – which RDRR regards as unacceptable.

In sum, despite the absence of a review of the internal situation and external context, and weak justification for its four aims, the Draft Annual Plan proposes an average general rate increase of 7.2 per cent (with variances depending on property type and any targeted rates that apply to a property), a $141 million capital works programme and borrowing of another $51 million. It is unacceptable that officials have not provided the arithmetic that shows how the 7.2 per cent rise and proposed borrowings were calculated.

RDRR members recognise the political courage of elected members and the professionalism of senior officials to reach the point of proposing austerity, as they have. Nevertheless, the RDRR now calls on elected members and officials to further revise all proposed capital expenditure (capex) and operational expenditure (opex) for 2023/24 to help all in the Rotorua District to learn to live within their means and to avoid any further impoverishment of ratepayers, most especially the elderly. One respondent spoke for dozens when she argued that:

Costs need to be adjusted by the Council to the income it receives, and not increase debt levels.

Which brings RDRR to the importance of achieving annual surpluses by reordering priorities.

Council’s ‘Top Priorities’ for 2023/24

The first ‘top priority’ is “to find an immediate solution and exit plan to the emergency housing motels and the damage they were causing for Rotorua.” (p. 7) The Rotorua Housing Accord between Government, RLC and Te Arawa was reportedly intended to “progressively reduce the use of motels for emergency housing in Rotorua to near zero” while also working together to “build a better housing and urban future for Rotorua.” (p. 7)

RDRR members advise that policy making and implementation in this ‘top priority’ area is confused, confusing, costly to Council and significantly over serviced. The confusion is illustrated by RotoruaNZ, a CCO, launching a dashboard on 15 September 2022 to help tourists avoid mixed use motels that has often been at odds with the dashboard maintained by the Ministry of Housing and Urban Development (MHUD). It is therefore difficult to monitor the overall situation and to verify costs to ratepayers and trends.

Overservicing is evident in how different Government agencies have funded and organised services to those in need of housing and ‘wraparound’ services, increasingly in competition with each other and the need for tourist accommodation.[4] Many of the fully-funded services are running well below capacity, and together, appear to be an incentive regime for ‘gold plating’ the homeless industry, instead of systematic and proven rationalisation in the public interest.

The Ministry of Social Development (MSD) contracts Ngati Whakaue’s Te Kopaku (The Hub) to triage and help place incoming homeless. MSD offers vouchers to the neediest homeless in New Zealand for uncontracted emergency housing in Rotorua’s motels. MSD has recently reiterated its long-standing policy of providing accommodation to out-of-town homeless according to its own criteria of need, contrary to what the RLC and RDRR would prefer.[5] Put another way, MSD is ‘out of control’ by Rotorua’s local government.

MHUD offers contracted emergency housing in 13 hotels for local homeless and connected whanau with ‘wraparound’ social services, and apparently plans to do so until December 2024, even though recent demand has fallen by over half. Simultaneously MHUD has contracted a developer and engineer to plan a 350-home housing estate on the 15.9ha (39.29 acre) site at 31 Ngongotahā Road. Unless there is a major intervention by Council to remedy the pre-existing problem of homes below the proposed subdivision being flooded with raw sewage during stormwater surges, adding the effluent from another 1,000 people will significantly exacerbate matters. MHUD appears to be similarly ‘out of control’.

After two public meetings that attracted over 400 and about 350 people, a RDRR report[6] called for the scale of the project to be justified, detailed engineering plans that address the potential for flooding at and below the site, a thorough analysis of how an additional 1,000 people will impact the Ngongotahā Village, along with many other publicly expressed concerns.

MHUD’s Kainga Ora has spent over $80 million on converting or building affordable housing for the homeless in Rotorua. It has alarmed residents by undermining their sense of security, by circumventing their access to the Council’s consenting process by using Consentium, and by ‘pepper-potting’ multi-storey provisions in middle-class suburbs which is helping undermine real estate values. RDRR considers Kainga Ora to be similarly ‘out of control’.

More broadly, one respondent spoke for many when he argued:

It is NOT the council’s responsibility to provide housing for everyone – that is the responsibility of the private sector, as it responds to market needs.  Growth for the sake of growth, or growth for the sake of revenue generation, or growth for the sake of raising a debt ceiling is grossly irresponsible, especially in an era of “environmental awareness”.

Since humans are (allegedly) the single greatest source of environmental destruction, why the hell is this council pushing for growth in the human population?  How is this helping us meet our “emissions reductions” targets? 

In sum, Government agencies are largely operating independently of each other and the RLC and are reluctant to accept local coordination or to provide local public accountability. Successive Housing Accords have rendered the RLC a compliant and subordinate partner in nationally funded projects that concentrate homeless disproportionately in Rotorua but whose plans and measurables appear to be confidential to the MSD and MHUD (including Kainga Ora).

RDRR urges the RLC to accept that housing is not a local government responsibility, publicly distance itself from the unseemly crisis of public accountability, and significantly reduce the priority it gives to this issue – other than ruthlessly encourage government departments to wind up the homeless industry to help accelerate the recovery of the tourism industry.

The only exception proposed to this approach that the RDRR recommends is that any investment in housing by Council should be to increase the availability of affordable pensioner flats. The current waiting list is fictional because it is restricted to 50 places. Real demand is many times higher. The maintenance programme is significantly behind schedule and there are many flats standing empty awaiting upgrades.

This suggests that either elected members have not asked for a systematic evaluation of the pensioner flats programme or that senior officials have excluded the programme from their regular reports, or both. None of these practices are acceptable. RDRR urges elected members and officials to overhaul the pensioner flats programme, including its budget.

The RLC’s second ‘top priority’ is to provide community safety. One respondent noted:

On p. 14, “Community wellbeing”, which is not clearly defined in the Annual Plan consultation document, constitutes 28% of the council’s expenses.  Without knowing what these expenses are (because the document hasn’t described them) I would say that these could receive large cuts to their budget.

The RLC is dependent on a government agency, the Police, to “address anti-social and criminal behaviour that affects residents and visitors’ experiences in Rotorua.” (p. 7) The trends in ram raiding, family violence, retail theft and public disorder continue to be negative and await practical solutions. A respondent questioned the current strategy:

Since it takes over 1000 CCTV cameras to solve a crime, what then is the point of installing so many?  Is that cost really justifiable, considering the return on investment?  Surely investing in better parents and better parenting would be a more efficient and responsible use of this money?

Rotorua is not alone in needing to confront these trends more effectively. RDRR urges action research into initiatives intended to restore law and order on the streets, such as Whangarei’s Stand Up project.[7]

The RDRR is appalled by equal attention being given by the RLC to “improving the community’s perceptions of safety and restoring the positive reputation of this beautiful place we call home.” (p. 7) A respondent asked:

On p. 15, what exactly does the council mean by “the public’s perceptions of safety”?  It is NOT the council’s responsibility to promote propaganda, nor to attempt to shift public opinion in dishonest ways, or in dishonest directions.

The Rotorua Community Safety Strategy increasingly appears to comprise perception management methods with ‘positivity’ indicators instead of promoting policing interventions that maintain public behavioural standards and arrest criminal activity.

RDRR rejects the oft-quoted national Police policy of “policing by consent” because it uses transactional and situational ethics rather than principled and legally codified morals to arrest and prosecute people who violate the law.

Finally, a respondent highlighted another unfortunate aspect of RLC’s community safety policy.

Enhanced community wellbeing for all: urban and rural, young, old, Māori and non-Māori”. So does that mean that there’s two classes of people in Rotorua: Māori and everyone else?  I thought “all” meant ALL, not this preferred minority, and then everyone else second.

“Genuine partnership with iwi and mana whenua” – what about everyone else, in particular the ratepayers?  Why aren’t they considered here?

The third ‘top priority’ is economic development. It is not clear what is meant by RLC “supporting opportunities that will create jobs and support an environment that makes Rotorua an attractive place to invest” …. “as well as the revitalisation of our inner city and Fenton Street” (p. 7).

The Draft Annual Plan does not provide the role, programmes, KPIs or budget for RotoruaNZ, the CCO  that is tasked with promoting economic development. The Plan also lacks an Inner City and Fenton Street Revitalisation Programme plan with budget. Without them the economic development strategy is an exercise in rhetoric that could be cynical virtue signalling.

RDRR regards this as a major oversight that must be corrected in the revised Annual Plan, along with customised expectations, budgets and public accountability criteria for the RLC’s two other CCOs, the Rotorua Regional Airport and Infracore.

The fourth ‘top priority’ is infrastructure, appropriately defined as a core service that enables growth in the economy and in housing, and as requiring professional planning, technological reliability and safety, and resilience “to climate change, which means protecting and restoring our natural environment.” (p. 7)

RDRR supports this position. It also suggests that elected members and senior officials pause one part of this priority because the Three Waters/ Affordable Water Infrastructure policy proposals will be finalised after the coming general election. Fresh plans will then be appropriate for the next Long-Term Plan.

On the other hand, RDRR members with engineering qualifications and corporate experience have drawn attention to the need for improved communications about infrastructure priorities and programme plans. For example:

I really don’t know how they prioritize their projects. Have they done a need/want review? Have they some measurements to select them on necessity? Are their costs, valid at the time of letting the contract, or will there be costs overruns as is the case today, when none of the big contractors will give you a fixed price? Have the sewers been checked for infiltration by incorrect stormwater connections. This can be done by placing powdered dyed in gutters of houses to see if it is necessary to investigate further.

Another respondent argued that:

On p. 24, I am somewhat opposed to reducing spending on “essential services”, by doing things such as not sweeping leaf litter out of drains and gutters, thus raising the risk of localised flooding; allowing signage to be more degraded and illegible before replacing it; and delaying the removal of roadside hazards.  This proposal is irresponsible and could lead to litigation against council – and thus ratepayers, since we provide the money that the council spends – for negligence or unsafe practices.

I fully support reducing maintenance of inter-city cycle ways that literally never get used by anyone, ever.  Considering there is little to no demand for cycle ways in Rotorua, I don’t see a lot of point in spending money on them at all.  I’m even disgusted with the waste of time and money that the Te Ngae Rd “upgrade” is proving to be.  The road hasn’t really been widened for cars – it’s been widened to put a wider cycle-based footpath in.  Have you seen how many people actually use it?  NOT a good return on investment!  I know, you plan to take away our cars soon, then we won’t have any choice but to use them.  If so, why bother spending our money to widen the road at all, then?  Why start the upgrades 10 years after it needed to be done?  NOT good planning on Council’s part!

The Fundamental Values Evident in Council’s Proposed Priorities

To RDRR members, the four most impressive aspects of RLC’s priority setting (p. 11) are:

  • the recognition of severe headwinds (costs of construction, high inflation, labour shortages in competitive markets, government reforms, cost of living and housing crises), albeit overlooking the impact of an imminent Depression,
  • the reported adoption of internal budget challenge methods, more effective project management methods and user pays systems,
  • the fresh apparent willingness to suspend or cancel expenditure that is not essential in the public interest or unsustainable, and
  • the innovative and apparently genuine commitment by elected members to “achieving an affordable rates increase and have [therefore] reduced spending” (p. 7) in a context of local elderly poverty,[8] with about 40 per cent of retirees somehow surviving on superannuation.

The least impressive aspect of Council’s priority setting is its symbolic suspension of co-governance, a political objective repugnant to RDRR that is strongly associated with the previous regime that was largely replaced at the October 2022 local elections.

To clarify, Council’s fundamental values concerning priorities are listed (p. 11) as:

  1. Positively working together for all our people
  2. Prudent financial management
  3. Authentic engagement and communication
  4. Genuine partnership with Iwi and mana whenua
  5. Trusted stewards of resources
  6. Sound, responsible, and well-informed decision making.

There are three acute problems with this statement, in RDRR’s view.

First, the fourth value implies precedence being given to the interests of one ethnic group in our community over others and that non-iwi and non-mana whenua are not considered worthy of genuine partnerships. Both positions are unacceptable in a community long committed to intercultural egalitarianism. Further, such precedence and status differences between citizens are at odds with the first and third values which guarantee equal respect to all stakeholders, irrespective of ethnicity.

The RLC is therefore urged to develop a statement of values that has internal coherence.

Second, a partnership between a democratically elected local government and one selected stakeholder group within its constituency is inconsistent with “fair and effective representation of individuals and communities” that is required by Principle 4 (1) (c) of the Local Electoral Act.[9]

Our system of government is a representative democracy based on equal suffrage, colloquially defined as ‘one person, one vote, one value’.

The RLC is therefore urged to consider genuine partnerships with all legitimate stakeholder groups, like RDRR, by “positively working together for all our people.” As noted above, there appear to be senior officials who struggle to accept the new political reality of democratic interculturalism in community leadership.

Third, in a turbulent political context, the RLC is urged to default to the law about co-governance. The Minister of Local Government recently claimed[10] that co-governance was justified in the proposed ‘Affordable Water Infrastructure’ policy. He argued that “the treaty recognises that Māori have special rights in water in particular … it’s been tested in the courts and found to be New Zealand law.”

This is not true. Māori do not have special rights regarding water that back up into Te Tiriti. The “special rights” have not been tested in the courts and are not in New Zealand law.

The follow up claim by the Minister, that there are “provisions in our laws around the treaty that aren’t democratic,” is similarly untrue. There are no such provisions. Instead, claiming there are such legal provisions appear to be a deliberately divisive political tactic based on ethnicity. Such tactics are despised by RDRR members. For example, one respondent asked:

Why the feck are you prioritising Māori on the council web page – which only 5% of people speak – while disadvantaging and excluding the 95% of the population that don’t speak it? [and elsewhere]

When did “paper roads” become “Māori roads”?  And why the hell are ratepayers paying for their improvements?

The RLC is therefore urged to adopt values in its policies that have external coherence with the law.

Council’s Appreciation of its Operating Environment

The RLC’s understanding of its ‘operating environment’ (pp. 12-13) is framed by the administrative structure of the RLC, as revised by the Chief Executive as of 14 June 2021.[11] This framing does not refer to the RLC’s external operating environment, which is regarded by RDRR as bizarre and as confirming the closed and inward-looking administrative culture of the RLC.

As the Three Waters policy turbulence illustrates, the external policy context sets conditions for Council policy making and implementation that cannot be ignored. For example, one respondent argued that:

Three (or really Five) Waters is a public-assets-and-natural-resources grab by private tribes and will result in much higher costs for water services, much lower levels of services, blatant discrimination against certain customers, and significant disruption to the supply chain, all with zero accountability to either the government or taxpayers.  I am vehemently opposed to it!  I am very much opposed to using the Three (or Five) waters scam as an excuse for expanding ratepayer debt.  DEBT IS SLAVERY.

Nevertheless, the framework used in the draft Annual Plan to understand the RLC’s ‘operating environment’ comprises eight service delivery areas and groups of activities that align with outcomes that are clarified by the LTPs and Annual Plans. The eight groups are Community Leadership, Community Wellbeing, District Development and Regulatory, Roads and Footpaths, Sewerage and Sewage, Stormwater and Drainage, Waste Management and Water Supplies. The KPIs of outcomes for each area are clarified, along with estimates of activity expenses and revenues, although it is not clear how these estimates were made and should be.

Two other groups, Te Arawa Partnership and Organisational Enablement, and their KPIs, are absent from Council’s view of its ‘operating environment’, yet present in the organisational charts for the RLC, as of 6 March 2023. While the Organisational Enablement group has an enduring justification as an essential corporate service, the Te Arawa Partnership group appears to be an ideological artefact of the previous political era at Council and now duplicates the representation by members elected from the new Māori Ward and is therefore an obvious candidate for organizational rationalisation.

The RLC’s appreciation of its ‘operating environment’ is exclusively internal and primarily structural-functional in nature, that is, dominated by a classical management or bureaucratic theory of organization.

This theory that assumes that management is a process of planning, organization, command, coordination, and control. This perspective has both strengths and limitations:

mechanistic  approaches to organizational work well only where machines work well: (a) when there is a straight forward task to perform; (b) when the environment is stable enough to assume that the products produced will be the appropriate ones; (c) when one wishes to produce exactly the same product time and time again; (d) when precision is at a premium; and (e) when the human “machine” parts are compliant and behave as they have been designed to do … [and yet can] … have severe limitations. In particular they: (a) can create organizational forms that have great difficulty in adapting to changing circumstances; (b) can result in mindless and unquestioning bureaucracy; (c) can have unanticipated and undesirable consequences as the interests of those working in the organization take precedence over the goals the organisation was designed to achieve; and (d) can have dehumanizing effects upon employees, especially those at the lower levels of the organizational hierarchy.[12]

Since 1 July 2013, when the current CE was appointed, there has been a largely unchanged and bureaucratic approach to organisation, and persistent indicators of a toxic horizontal divide between corporate and delivery team cultures. RDRR therefore urges elected members to insist on more inclusive alternatives being developed in the administrative culture of Council.

For example, thinking of the organisation as an organism would focus on its health and development as an open system that is responsive to its environment. Considering it be the equivalent of a brain would focus on its learning systems in a rapidly changing world. Regarding it as a political system would highlight the interplay of interests, conflict and power at national and local levels and hopefully promote democratic methods of generating policies on the common ground. And so on. There are other possible approaches and blends available.[13]

The key point here is that the fundamental rationale of the current organizational purposes and structures has not been reviewed for nearly a decade, apart from occasional minor restructurings, despite major changes in the RLC’s context, expectations, and representation.

Widespread public concern about the nature, quality, and structures of the RLC’s organisation was triggered when seven deputy chief executives (DCEs) were largely promoted from within to lead the CE’s Office, Te Arawa Partnership, Organisational Enablement, District Leadership and Democracy, District Development, Community Wellbeing, and Infrastructure and Environmental Solutions.

Much as RDRR warned at the time, the new DCEs appointed directors to take up their prior group management responsibilities so that they could focus on developing policies, which increasingly usurped the role of elected members that have electoral mandates to determine policies.

Public concerns initially focused on the inflation of group personnel costs, now totalling over $45 million per annum (i.e. 30.4 per cent of a small city council’s annual income of $148 million),[14] then on the increasingly unresponsive nature of a ‘top-heavy’ bureaucratic organisation, and finally, on the quality of service delivery that was widely perceived as having plateaued or fallen.

Inflation is not inevitable, as one respondent pointed out:

P. 18. Inflation is caused, in short, by money being devalued.  I’m astonished that no level of government can comprehend this.  When taxes go up, inflation goes up, because the value of money goes down; and business don’t pay taxes – customers do.  When the minimum wage goes up, the costs of goods and services go up, and the value of the dollar goes down.  Inflation is a self-inflicted injury, inflicted upon taxpayers by ignorant and mischievous governments.

Interest costs are only a problem if you borrow money.  And no kidding interest rates have gone up – why do you think they were so low for so long?!  It was to trick people into borrowing money.  So pay off the debt, rather than expand it!

It has recently been reported[15] that the departure of the DCE CE’s Office led to a non-replacement decision and to also disestablish 11 other roles, with salary savings totalling $1.03 million. The roles “relinquished” were event attraction manager, financial services manager, volunteer and creative communities research analyst, and five information solutions’ roles; customer solutions manager, information data officer, service desk lead, senior test lead and senior business analyst.

RDRR members welcome this recent organizational rationalisation, given the urgent need for and the possibility of greater efficiencies and effectiveness, and the downscaling of ‘spin’ capacity. They now urge elected members and the CE  to review the necessity of continuing to pay six DCE salaries for group management roles, one of whom has obsolete ideological purposes, and another in the area of Wellbeing services, that should now be facing substantial rationalisation.

Two respondents were blunt but spoke for many when they said:

This council is a joke ! Give yourselves a pay cut, a huge one.

$45M on salaries per annum for the Council group is a big chunk of expenditure.

The main reasons compelling to RDRR members to ask for a reversion to one CE, possibly one DCE and as few as four group managers are that they would:

  • create ‘space’ in the policy process for the recently elected members of the RLC to recapture control of policy making content and processes,
  • reconnect senior officials with their service delivery teams and thereby ensure greater fidelity in policy implementation, more effective formative evaluation, and significantly improve morale, and
  • substantially reduce personnel costs.

To summarise this section, the RLC has eight service delivery groups that align with outcomes clarified by LTPs and Annual Plans. Two groups, Te Arawa Partnership and Organisational Enablement, and their KPAs, are absent from Council’s perception of its operating environment. The recent departure of DCE CE’s Office led to a non-replacement decision and to also disestablish 11 other roles, with salary savings totalling $1.03 million.

RDRR urges elected members and the CE to revisit the necessity of continuing to pay DCE salaries for six group management roles, one with obsolete ideological purposes and another facing significant rationalisation, to significantly downscale RLC’s group personnel annual costs of over $45 million. The absence of the CCOs’ purposes, programme budgets and KPIs from the Annual Plan is unacceptable because it shields their services and structures from public accountability and organisational review and reform. RDRR expects the CCOs to be subjected to the same rigour of review and rationalisation as the rest of the administration of the RLC.

RDRR also recommends that the elected members consider alternatives to a bureaucratic approach to organization that has been largely unchanged for nine years. Most importantly, it is also time to end a near decade of expensive structural capture of policy making by senior officials and to reorganise the RLC as an open system with a learning culture that is responsive to its rapidly changing environment, as perceived and represented by elected members.

Proposed Focus Areas and Capital Works Projects

RDRR’s feedback on the Focus Areas and Capital Works Projects is provided above in the section entitled Council’s ‘Top Priorities’ for 2023/24 and below in the section entitled Proposed Focus Area and Capital Works Projects.  

This also indicates duplication in, and poor editing of, the draft Annual Plan.

Key Challenges and Opportunities

It was suggested above that Draft Annual Plan would be more convincing had it started with an evidence-based analysis of the situation that the RLC finds itself in, internally and externally. The absence of a systematic appreciation of organisational strengths and weaknesses and external opportunities and threats is consistent with the bureaucratic culture of the RLC that discourages critical reflection on its performance and public accountability against agreed KPIs.

The key challenge here for elected members is that Council has developed a defensive and closed corporate culture that habitually avoids rigorous formative evaluation of its organization, management services, programmes, and projects. The line between policy making by elected members, albeit it ideally informed by advice from senior officials, and policy implementation by service delivery teams coordinated by senior officials, has become muddled and needs to be reset to obtain significant organisational efficiencies.

On the other hand, the proposed contingency plans (pp. 18-19) to cope with inflation, interest costs, staff retention and recruitment, reputational damage, Three Waters, climate change and Covid-19, all appear to be pragmatic tactical solutions to current challenges and reasonable in scope. They are therefore supported by RDRR while awaiting the development of strategic plans and organisational reform.

Proposals to Meet Budget Challenges

RDRR supports the following proposals, with caveats intended to hold rates rises, if any, to a minimum, and to achieve a surplus in 2023/24:

  • Increasing fees and charges, to signal real costs and inflation.
  • Adopt the stepped refund of Resource Management Fees, as set out in the RMA.
  • Removing the cap on consenting fees, to reflect full costs and provide market signals.
  • Increase the proposed entrance fees to the Rotorua Aquatic Centre, to reflect public investment, increased operating costs and to reduce contributions from rates with a view to replacing subsidies with market signals to improve the Centre’ business case en route to full commercialisation.
  • Implement free parking in the CBD to compete with the Central Mall and Trade Central, convert all parts of the CBD Cycleway back into parking and encourage multi-storey car parks in the CBD.
  • Implement the proposed commercialisation of the Sir Howard Morrison Centre with a preliminary and minimum target of a $200,000 annual return on investment and, given its controversial name related to unsavoury scandal, and to assist with marketing, give serious consideration to renaming it as Rotorua’s Civic Centre or Rotorua’s Performing Arts Centre.
  • Implement the proposed reduction in service quality related to City Beautification with the sole exception of Ngongotahā’s hanging baskets which are needed to lift spirits in the Village appalled by regular failures of sewage and stormwater infrastructure and MHUD’s proposal to build a housing estate that will add the effluent from about 1,000 people.
  • Implement the proposed reduction in service quality related to Sports and Recreation.
  • Implement the proposed cessation of Museum education and waste education.
  • Implement the proposed reduction of Library hours and restore its former role as a community library. Given New Zealand’s poor PISA test results and local truancy levels, provide materials to introduce a STEM approach to learning and development (that integrates the areas of science, technology, engineering and mathematics) to help students develop employable key skills, including problem solving and creativity.
  • Implement the proposed reduction to Arts and Creative Communities funding, without exception, so that all sections of our community knowingly contribute to Rotorua’s recovery.
  • Implement the proposed cessation of the Economic Development Fund.
  • Defer the proposed upgrade of the Sala Street chapel.
  • Defer Community Wellbeing Investment allocation for at least a year to anticipate the impact of the coming Depression, that is, pausing all allocations via Partnership Agreements, Community Grants and the Neighbourhood Matching Fund. The sole exception recommended by RDRR is that the final year of Council’s partnership with the Citizens Advice Bureau[16] be honoured and then be extended to help mitigate the pausing of all other Community Wellbeing programmes.
  • Implement the proposed savings related to Core Infrastructure.
  • Sustain the externally funded Transport Choices while calling for an urgent joint review with the Bay of Plenty Regional Council to potentially save millions by switching to fewer and smaller electric buses (a 9am to 3pm survey in Arawa Street on 21 April recorded 53 buses with 30 passengers). The current public bus service business model is driven by population growth and beliefs about preferred behaviours instead of responding pragmatically to fluctuations in actual demand.
  • Implement the proposed reductions to Events Attraction and Delivery, in particular ending all support to organisations that have already had three years of developmental subsidies (e.g. Crankworx).
  • Implement the proposed savings to Organisational Enablement and Efficiency. Cancel RLC’s membership of Local Government New Zealand due to its partisan and government-funded promotion of Three Waters and profligate annual conferences with fake awards.

Proposed Capital Works Programme

The summary of the proposed Capital Works Programme budget (pp. 26-7) is very helpful. RDRR recommends that:

  1. In the light of the blowout of the Sir Howard Morrison Centre Redevelopment budget to $36.5 million, that elected members pause and revise downwards the proposed budgets for Rotorua Museum Enhancements of $24,247,241 and Rotorua Museum Renewals of $157,500 to compress costs and achieve a Museum Restoration outcome instead of the proposed Museum Redevelopment project.

One respondent put it this way:

The last time I was in Rotorua the HM Centre was about to be opened – very ugly and a waste of a lot of money.  I would love to see the museum fixed and opened.  The museum has always been an iconic part of Rotorua, and actually makes an income.  Surely it can be done for a reasonable amount without all the ‘fluff’ that often goes with these projects.

Elected members are advised that:

RDRR members hold diverse views on the Museum. Some want it to go back to central government where it came from. Some see it as beautiful and iconic, and far more worthy of restoration than other pet projects because it could generate income. Others see the escalating costs and the inherited $300 debt as reasons for mothballing it, holding rates rises down, stopping borrowing and achieving a surplus budget. Elected members would be wise to commission advice from a licensed and experienced quantity surveyor and then consult ratepayers.

  • Review the proposed Information Solutions Improvements budget of $1,016,400, the Information Technology Enhancements budget of $344,400 and the Information Technology Renewals budget of $42,000 in the light of the recent downscaling of “information” personnel.
  • In the light of the unrevealed connection costs, growing public resistance, the undisclosed cross subsidies anticipated from all ratepayers, and an imminent Depression, that the Tarawera Sewage Scheme Stage 2 budget of $13,555,500 be deferred and achieve a surplus. A deferral would also enable consideration of an alternative strategy suggested by a respondent:

The Tarawera Sewage scheme: is spending $22.5m on piping sewage 24km from Lake Tarawera back to Rotorua, past 3 volcanic lakes, a good use of money or resources?  By my calculation, that money could be used to buy 750 state-of-the-art septic tanks or subsidise the purchase of more than twice as many.  Septic tanks require NO further costs to ratepayers as a whole once they are installed – only maintenance costs to the owners of them.  And WHEN an earthquake/eruption happens, they won’t pour large quantities of sewage onto the ground or into the lakes and streams, since they are all self-contained, and they won’t all back-up and overflow in a prolonged blackout like sewer pipes do.  They won’t need constant maintenance and upgrades as the population fluctuates either.  They are cheaper initially, and significantly cheaper in the long-term.

  • RLC develop a debt reduction strategy as a matter of great urgency to downscale borrowing requirements and hold rates at current levels. One respondent asked, with tongue firmly in cheek:

Never is there a mention of the Council’s interest rate on the existing debt. How much of our rate money goes on interest or does the Government providing the debt money for free?

Another expressed the views of most RDRR members, associates and friends:

There was NO discussion of the cost of debt servicing in the consultation document.  Currently, the interest repayments on the current debt are around the $8,000,000/yr mark.  THIS could be cut by NOT BORROWING MORE and PAYING THE DEBT BACK PROMPTLY.

On p. 27, it is stated that the $51m proposed borrowing would be paid back by future GENERATIONS – how long, exactly, is this loan?  And how much interest will be paid in total over the duration of this loan?  How much more than the principle will this be?  What else could have been done with that money that is being paid in interest?  And is this debt REALLY a responsible use of rate-payer’s money?

A $51m increase in debt is an approximately 20% increase in over-all debt, which is definitely NOT sustainable!

How can you possibly think that borrowing MORE than the council’s annual revenue is a responsible use of rate-payer’s money?

RDRR’s members were particularly offended that capex proposals were driven by predetermined decisions to progress/ complete/ start eight ring-fenced projects: the Wastewater Treatment Plant Upgrade, Housing for Everyone – Plan Change 9, Community Safety Initiatives, Museum Redevelopment, Aquatic Centre Upgrade, New Organic Waste Collection Service, the Tarawera Sewerage Scheme and the Linton Park Stormwater Upgrade.

Such predetermination prior to public consultation, presumably by officials and elected members, is inappropriate. Ring fencing this mix of current and proposed projects without updated price tags, and that will not be consulted on by Council, was considered particularly inappropriate and contrary to democratic norms. The approach apparently seeks to pre-empt the accountability of project managers or at least impair the provision of complex feedback about internally favoured projects. It also increases the likelihood of cost-plus annual budgeting instead of systematic formative evaluation and budget challenges.

RDRR members have argued that the upgrades underway to the Wastewater Treatment Plant, the Aquatic Centre and Linton Park Stormwater infrastructure probably should not be halted without significant new reasons. One part-counter argument is that the Aquatic Centre upgrade used the most expensive of three funding options suggested by officials and a challenge to the project budget now might well identify savings. Another view was given by a respondent:

On p. 17, reference is made to the Linton Park stormwater levy.  I’ve seen that earthworks project.  Do you really think a dam wall made of fine silt is going to hold back water?  And what happens when this levy liquifies in an earthquake, or when holding back a lot of water?  Where do you think that water and silt will go?  What will happen to all the new houses that will be built downstream once the dam is completed?  Perhaps we can look to the Esk Valley for the answer to that…

A third view is that:

Rotorua is built INSIDE the rim of an active volcano, and there are at least seven other volcanoes within 100km of Rotorua.  A significant volcanic/earthquake even is absolutely guaranteed to happen.  We just don’t know when.  More effort should be put into individual household resilience, risk reduction, and event management/ containment planning, and less into dependency on centralised and easily disrupted essential services.

The new Organic Waste Collection Service is generally considered timely and appropriate, although there are disturbing reports that Yellow and Red Bin waste all goes straight into landfills and undermines the credibility of the Council’s waste management policy. One respondent also pointed out that:

If the yellow recycling bins are just dumped at the land fill same as the red bins then WHY are residents paying for two rubbish trucks with two crews covering the same routes? Do the councillors think the public are too stupid to realise they’re being billed for an unnecessary, duplicated service?

Another respondent pointed out that the plant south of Reporoa already takes organic waste, including organic waste from Auckland, to produce methane, CO2 and liquid fertiliser.[17] Some of the methane is used to generate electricity to power the site with the remainder pumped 400m into the country’s natural gas pipeline. The CO2 is also used as an “atmospheric fertiliser” for the tomatoes grown in greenhouses next door. Surely this ‘Ecogas’ option should be part of Rotorua’s waste strategy.

The Community Safety Initiatives are regarded by almost all RDRR members as a tragic but necessary response to the social and economic impacts of the imposed homeless industry. Similarly, the Plan Change 9 housing intensification policy is seen as a likely source of greater community problems rather than as providing solutions and should be wound down to coincide with the scheduled end of contracted emergency housing in December 2024.

One key issue is that the RLC and its partners, MSD, MHUD and Kainga Ora, have consistently failed to clarify the demand and planned supply of social homes in Rotorua with precision and to obtain appropriate behaviour from their tenants. Another is that building accommodation blocks three-stories or higher outside the CBD or immediately proximate areas is actively disputed by residents and ratepayers across Rotorua’s suburbs but ignored.

The Tarawera Sewerage Scheme posed intense problems for some RDRR members. Despite projected cost inflation, growing public uncertainty over the cost-benefits involved and the absence of clarity about historically comparative cross subsidies from all ratepayers, RDRR members have increasingly asked that Stage 2 of the project be deferred for at least a year, preferably two. Many argue that a delay will help the RLC cope with the coming Depression, which leading economists now predict will come earlier than expected and be severe enough to cause GDP to contract by two per cent.[18]

The most contentious aspect of the Draft Annual Plan to many RDRR members is Council’s decision to consult only on a long list of specific proposals. Such predetermination and ring fencing is unacceptable.

Nevertheless, by regrouping them, the pattern of justifications used reveals the values involved. RDRR members believe they should all be supported in the current context (less the Ngongotahā hanging baskets and the subsidy for the Citizens Advice Bureau) because single interest groups typically fail to appreciate the common good[19] and because elected members are best placed, mandated and handsomely rewarded to make such decisions on behalf of all members of our community, and then to be held accountable.

The first group of proposed actions value increasing fees and charges in line with inflation, to reflect increased costs, and to introduce ‘user pays’ discipline.  The changes will introduce market signals to users and lessen ratepayers’ exposure to selected subsidies. Included would be “admission to and hiring of venues and facilities, liquor licensing, dog registration, building and resource consents.”

On the other hand, as noted above, it is not clear that the market dynamics around parking have been considered. One respondent explained:

One thing I don’t understand is why Council members think that raising parking fees is going to increase the prosperity of business owners, other than Mall shop owners. Why would anyone park in the city when they can park for free where the mall is. Why do they think empty shops will not further reduce the number of tourists shopping where they have to pay to park. 

Another agreed:

Good way to cut off more CBD business foot traffic.

A third commented:

The parking [proposal] is a stupid idea, the council is going the wrong way. They should be removing all costs for parking to encourage people into the CBD …. Council-owned businesses need to pay their way. I just don’t go into Rotorua CBD anymore because of the parking meters. I’ll just go to the mall or free parking shops only.

A fourth reported how Taupo has significantly increased the provision of parking and boosted the quality and range of shops in the CBD to create vibrant commercial activity catering for returning crowds of tourists.

A fifth encouraged ‘user pays’ mechanisms to recoup extensive public investment:

One area not mentioned is the forest and the biking opportunities. These draw a massive audience and participation and are possibly the biggest tourist attraction there by way of numerical support. Maybe an entry fee or an annual pass fee to ride there would work. The cost of upkeep of that area I would imagine to be not cheap. The facilities provided are large and I would imagine their upkeep by Council is also hefty. They no doubt charge the operators based out there but cannot recall a charge being made on the public using the facilities.

The second group of proposed actions value reducing service levels and pausing improvement projects to reduce expenditure on ‘nice to haves’ to focus on providing ‘must haves’ or essentials.

Examples of proposed cuts to ‘nice to haves’ supported by RDRR include cutting back on city beautification (less Ngongotahā’s hanging baskets), pausing planned improvements at sports grounds, recreation parks, playgrounds and Whakarewarewa and Titokorangi forests, deferring the Kuirau Park Skate Park and lakes infrastructure enhancements, stopping museum education services provided to local and out-of-town schools and waste education activities, closing the Rotorua Library on Sundays, ending allocations from the Economic Recovery Fund, and reducing roading portfolio initiatives (including for maintenance of Te Ara Ahi cycle trail, Māori roadways and shared paths).

At the same time, three RDRR respondents drew attention to ‘must haves’ associated with road safety. One, emphasised by Tarawera residents, is the need to need to maintain road signage with mowing and weed spraying to ensure visibility.

Another is active intervention by Council staff or the Police to discourage boy racers. While Paradise Valley Road has evidence of ‘burn outs’ there are many other locations used occasionally for this anti-social and potentially dangerous activity.

A third is the need for painted road markings to assist drivers turning into or emerging from Keith, Oturoa and Dalbeath roads on to Ngongoatahā Road. The recent death of a motorcyclist is regarded as a ‘wake up’ call.

At the same time, one respondent was concerned at the low match between salaries paid and economic value to the community:

We suspect the council nursery staff and garden beautification workers are paid peanuts yet in my opinion they are a crucial part of attracting tourists to the city.

The third group of proposed actions will reduce or end expenditure on ‘wellbeing’ services that are intended to reduce the cost burden on ratepayers and shift costs to beneficiaries. Included are reduced or paused subsidies for sports codes, events, recreation, education, library, arts and creative activities, and events attraction. These proposals are all supported.

One respondent argued:

On p. 11, I see that “cultural wellbeing and respect” and “social wellbeing, equity and safety” are listed as council responsibilities.  I beg to differ.  Council’s responsibility is to provide core services, and that’s it.  It is NOT to participate in the distribution of destructive cultural propaganda, nor is it to pander to one “culture” over another, nor to prioritise said “culture” over the dominant one.

“Equity” does not exist in reality, outside of a totalitarian dictatorship, because of the inherent differences in individual talents and tastes, and the different choices of individuals.  It is NOT the council’s responsibility to force “equity” on its ratepayers and residents.  If the council must interfere in people’s lives and choices, then promote personal responsibility, and prudent decision making in individuals.

A commercial partner will be sought to upgrade the Sala Street Cemetery chapel. One respondent suggested that:

Sala street chapel’s lack of a catering facility wasn’t a problem when we had funerals. To simply walk over the road to the garden centre has, in fact, been a relief and delight. The mother and daughter who run the cafe have catered superbly each time we have asked them. After a sad hour or so at the crematorium it’s a relief to wander through the garden centre to the cafe.   

It is also proposed that all community funding grants (Partnerships, Community Grants and Neighbourhood Matching Fund) be suspended, with the sole exceptions of Ngongotahā’s hanging baskets and the Citizens Advice Bureau subsidy, to avoid creating a ‘horse trading’ market for lobbyists.

There are some curious omissions. There is no reference to system productivity and efficiencies, which precludes any evaluation of Council’s management systems, staffing levels and out-sourcing contracts. As noted above, there is no reference to organisational improvements and potential savings in the three CCOs; Infracore, the Regional Airport and RotoruaNZ. This is regarded as another major oversight that should be corrected by inclusion in the revised Annual Plan for 2023/24.

RDRR members urge the RLC to regard street sweeping, weed spraying and maintaining garden beds and drains in the CBD as core services when it contracts Infracore to maintain services because they contribute to the presentation of Rotorua to international and domestic tourists.

They also urge Council to stop wasting precious marketing resources through organisations such as RotoruaNZ or international promotions on television shows such as Good Morning America, until Rotorua’s ‘house is in order’. They also urge Council to consult far more carefully before contracting minimal maintenance services. The following lengthy case study is provided to illustrate what is regarded by local residents and ratepayers as an example of clumsy consultation and obdurate decision making by officials:

The brand-new Baxendale subdivision is not getting the grass mowed because the Council are not paying anyone to mow it. Consequently, the locals are doing so with individual weedeaters which goes on for hours causing unnecessary noise pollution. The Council could do the job in a very short amount of time with the right equipment eliminating the problem.

On top of that, despite all the residents of the Baxendale subdivision and the residents on the other side of the river objecting strenuously to the proposed bridge and path that the Council wants to put in, the obvious allocation of $472,000 for the subdivision on the Annual Plan shows that they indeed to proceed.

This is contrary to what everyone wants, the bridge and path go nowhere and will violate the privacy and security of the inhabitants of the area.

This subdivision was supposed to simply be planted, none of this was ever discussed prior to the “consultation” so this is being foisted on everyone after their purchase of a section and the building of their homes.

It also appears that the residents will have no say on what will be planted despite living there. This privilege has seemingly been granted to Māori.

The area was a haven for bird life, most of which has since departed due to the felling of many mature trees. There are stretches along the river that have been planted by the long-term locals and there is a huge concern that these plantings will be removed, and new plantings will replace them. This will destroy the remaining habitat for resident birds. The Council needs to leave the existing trees and plants and merely plant the areas that have not been planted.

A previous round of consultations conducted in May 2022 appears to he been ignored by planning officials. The meeting held at the John Keaney Stadium in May 2022 attracted over 30 residents who unanimously opposed the plans to build a ‘cycleway to nowhere’. Their objections were ignored. A recent petition signed by about 200 residents asks Council to remove the Baxendale Residential development from the draft Annual Plan and Long-Term Plan, to help ‘stop the spend’.

Concluding Note

RDRR’s preliminary response to the Draft Annual Plan is to agree conditionally with the Council’s decision to change what was originally proposed for Year 3 due to the current operating environment and challenges, particularly the long-term effects of Covid, the cost-of-living crisis caused by inflation, the devastating impact of the homeless industry on the community and its economy, and an inherited Council debt of about $300 million in a high interest environment.

Serious methodological issues were highlighted about the approach used to propose an annual plan, issues that relate to the overdue and overwhelming need for deep organisational and administrative reforms. It is crucial that a draft opex budget is now published as quickly as possible with at least two previous years data to demonstrate financial prudence. Sadly, the RDRR has no confidence that appropriate reforms can or will be achieved by the current administration.

RDRR’s members warmly acknowledge the politically courageous attempt by elected members and the professional advice of senior officials intended to address the incapacity of ratepayers to pay increased rates, albeit after nine years of prompting by RDRR.

Members are also, in general, strongly supportive of the financial austerity proposed in the Draft Annual Plan because it:

  • coheres with the restoration of democratic and responsible decision making through elected members, as advised by senior officials,
  • responds to the damaging effects of Covid, inflation, the homeless industry and Council’s inherited debt,
  • potentially positions the RLC to anticipate the impact of a likely Depression, and
  • will require all members of our community to accept cuts in services across the board in unique circumstances, in the public and common good, to prevent rates adding to elder poverty and to achieve a surplus in 2023/24.


Reynold Macpherson, 07 336 8553, 021 725 708,

[1] The minutes of the 22 March 2023 meeting of the RLC at state that “Section 95 of the Local Government Act 2002 outlines the requirements for an Annual Plan. These include the annual budget and funding impact statement for the year and a summary of variation to the longterm plan to the year which the annual plan relates.”











[12] Morgan, G. (1986) Images of Organization. Sage: London, pp. 34-5.

[13] Loc cit.