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Council approves extra $1m for water works

The Strategy Working Committee of South Wairarapa District Council [SWDC] has voted to approve an additional $1.01 million for Wellington Water [WW] to complete capital works for the year ending June 30.

This is more than the additional $530k recommended by council staff.

The vote passed narrowly at Wednesday’s meeting with councillors Aaron Woodcock, Pip Maynard, Colin Olds, and Mayor Martin Connelly voting against it.

Approving the $1.01m will result in a 0.3 per cent rates rise impact for the coming financial year, compared to a 0.16 per cent impact with the $530k option.

A report to the council’s Strategy Working Committee said there had been more network failures than expected over the past year and the actual costs of projects had exceeded budgets.

“All this has led to a situation where the remaining budget is not sufficient to cover the remaining planned work and WW has now asked us to increase the full-year budget amount,” the report said.

Council-owned Wellington Water is in charge of the region’s water services, including South Wairarapa, Upper and Lower Hutt, and Wellington.

At the Strategy Working Committee meeting, SWDC partnerships and operations manager Stefan Corbett said the issue of budget blowouts is two-fold.

“There are some cost pressures there which we recognise and, in today’s environment, it is an inevitable part of doing business,” he said.

“On the other side of things, to be completely transparent with you, there is an issue with overruns in the WW system.

“We all know that. It’s something that happens regularly and is happening at the other owner councils.”

Councillor Rebecca Gray said WW has “never made a secret of how much money is needed to bring all of our assets up to a certain level”.

“We’ve had to balance that financial cost with the impact on ratepayers. Conversations about cost overruns aside, I wanted to flag that the work we have done by WW – the engineering and scoping of projects – is of quite exceptional quality.

“The projects are being done to a high level.

“I think we need to keep in mind that this is a massive body of work that needs to be done and while it is important to be prudent around the funding, I feel very comfortable that we are installing assets for the community at a very high quality.”

Councillor Alistair Plimmer said there is “no cheaper time” to invest in infrastructure and renewals “than today” and supported the higher level of funding.

“We are in this really difficult financial position at the moment but it’s not going to get easier next year,” he said.

“We will have the same conversation next year and that’s the problem.

“While I understand the conversations around overruns, the prudent thing is to try to do as much as we possibly can now because tomorrow is more expensive.”

Councillors requested that WW “commit to improve their processes to better deliver the capital programme within council-approved budgets”.

They also requested a report be prepared by the end of July “that outlines how we will reset expectations and ensure WW’s internal processes support forecasting accuracy and budget control”. -NZLDR

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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