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Budget blowout prompts pointed questions

Emergency work to fix sewage overflows in Featherston has resulted in a budget blowout.

But with the work costing $240,000 elected members have been left scratching their heads about who approved the spend and when, given any emergency work over $50,000 needs council sign-off.

At the South Wairarapa District Council [SWDC], the chief executive has the delegation to approve emergency works up to $50,000 but the full council must approve emergency works over this amount.

At last week’s Finance Committee, elected members were asked to recommend to council the approval of a forecast Wellington Water [WW] operational expenditure overspending of $301,000 for the 2022-23 year.

The key driver of the overspending relates to the Fitzherbert St sewer overflow emergency event in July 2022 at a cost of $240,000.

Without this emergency event, the total predicted WW overspend for the year would have been $61,000.

Finance Committee chair Colin Olds said he was “concerned that somebody within our organisation or outside our organisation has authorised this unbudgeted expenditure”.

“Until such a time as we get a report on how this occurred, I certainly wouldn’t be endorsing or recommending this to council for endorsement.”

He requested a full report on how the overspending occurred to go to a full council meeting.

“There’s a bit of a ‘please explain’, and I’m very anxious to know how this came about,” Olds said.

“I’m not saying this expense isn’t justified, I’m just wondering about the process and how we got to the stage where WW basically have an open chequebook and do what they want to do.”

South Wairarapa Mayor Martin Connelly said he was “spectacularly unimpressed” by the situation.

A report to the Finance Committee said overflow risks on Fitzherbert St still remain and that another extreme weather event this financial year could exacerbate the overspending.

“WW has been directed to look for further savings over the next three months, but there is a risk that these will not eventuate,” the report said.

“WW has also informed us that to comply with the current budget would require significant reductions in service delivery for the final three months of the financial year, and result in significant non-compliances.”


    Public Interest Journalism funded through NZ On Air

Emily Ireland
Emily Ireland
Emily Ireland is Wairarapa’s Local Democracy Reporter, a Public Interest Journalism role funded through NZ On Air. Emily has worked at the Wairarapa Times-Age for seven years and has a keen interest in council decision-making and transparency.

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