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Second thoughts on Better Off fund

South Wairarapa’s elected members will decide today whether to reallocate $1.88 million of Better Off funding from a wellbeing fund to cover unbudgeted operational costs associated with three waters services.

If agreed by councillors and approved by the Department of Internal Affairs, $1.25m would be used to help fund Wellington Water’s operational budget for the coming financial year.

This follows advice that the appropriate budget is significantly higher than the Long-Term Plan [LTP] approved budget of $3.5m.

In addition, the remainder of the Better Off funding would go towards fixing compliance issues at the Martinborough wastewater treatment plant [MWWTP], including desludging at the plant and a population growth study.

This priority follows an Abatement Notice at the MWWTP and subsequent suspension of connection requests due to capacity issues at the plant.

The suspension effectively halts Martinborough’s growth for two years.

A report to the council’s Infrastructure and Community Services Committee said it now seemed “prudent and appropriate” for South Wairarapa ratepayers, that the full amount of tranche 1 Better Off funding [$1.88m] be applied to the Wellington Water operational budget over and above the LTP, the full desludging of the MWWTP and growth studies, and – if possible – any high priority issues identified from the health check of the other plants.

“There will be a significant impact to the Annual Plan if we are not successful in this substitution application as the [operational expenditure] required for compliance at the MWWTP is currently unfunded,” the report said.

The report will be considered alongside a separate report with recommendations regarding the noncompliant MWWTP.

Council staff have recommended that the Infrastructure and Community Services Committee endorses a joint review at a chief executive level between South Wairarapa District Council [SWDC] and Wellington Water into the circumstances that led to the sudden halt on new connections.

Staff have also recommended that the committee extend the review to recommend improvements to project management, governance, and reporting to reduce the likelihood of a similar event happening in the future.

The final recommendation is that an appropriate governance structure be investigated as part of the review.

An urgent health check of SWDC’s other wastewater treatment plants is underway by Wellington Water, with a report due back yesterday.

Urgent work is also underway to confirm a compliance plan to bring the Martinborough plant into consent as quickly as possible. – 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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