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Spotlight on rising costs

Rising staff costs were a point of contention at last week’s Masterton District Council meeting, as elected members gave their blessing to consult on this year’s annual plan.

Councillor Brent Goodwin observed there was a noticeable difference in staff costs in the council’s Long-Term Plan [LTP] versus the proposed annual plan budget.

The LTP predicted staff costs would be $13.16 million by the 2023-24 year, yet he was “hearing $15.1m” in the upcoming annual plan budget, Goodwin said.

“To me, that’s a very significant change, and that needs to be consulted on.”

Masterton Mayor Gary Caffell told Goodwin that staff costs were “a discussion which you know we are going to be having with the chief executive in weeks to come”.

Masterton councillor Brent Goodwin. PHOTOS/FILE

“I’m asking that an explanation for this huge change be included in the consultation discussion,” Goodwin replied.

“Anyone I speak to, it’s the biggest issue.

“People don’t get upset if we’re spending an extra $600k-$1m on roading, they understand it.

“But 20 months ago, the council put this LTP to bed with $13.16m [on personnel costs], and 20 months later it has puffed up $2m.

“I promise you people will get wound up about it,” Goodwin said.

“I just need the assurance that it will be one of the things we consult on because it is the most material and the most significant change on the page.

“We can’t ignore this elephant in the room.”

Masterton District Council chief executive David Hopman.

Chief executive David Hopman said the council would be consulting “on the entire plan” and that staffing costs are part of the budget that will be put to the public.

Goodwin pressed the issue further, asking if he was correct in his calculations that “if you took $2m off our budget”, there’d be a rates increase of about 3 per cent instead of the projected rise of 7.9 per cent.

Council staff did not confirm this.

Caffell moved the discussion to the recommendation before elected members, which was to confirm council will undertake consultation on the 2023-24 Annual Plan in accordance with Section 95[2A] of the Local Government Act 2002.

Masterton Mayor Gary Caffell. PHOTO/SUE TEODORO

“Every councillor dreads the conversation on rates,” Caffell said.

“It’s the thing that keeps you awake at night because you know that whatever the increase is, it’s going to adversely affect quite a large group of people in the community.”

Caffell said nobody around the council table accepted a 7.9 per cent average rates increase was “a good number”.

“Now what we are saying to the community is, ‘if you don’t believe we have done well enough, here is your opportunity to tell us where we can do better and how we can do better’.”

The council’s annual plan consultation document will be adopted on March 29.

Consultation will run from March 31 until May 1, followed by hearings on May 17 and 18.

Councillors will then deliberate on submissions on June 7 and adopt the final 2023-24 Annual Plan on June 28.

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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