Three Waters hole in council books
Queenstown Lakes councillors will be asked to consider delaying the ten-year financial plan, due to the blowback from Three Waters cancellation.
The Coalition Government yesterday confirmed it will repeal the legislation which was set to revamp the ownership of Three Waters services - drinking water, storm water and sewage.
The legislation would have taken the financial burden away from councils.
But the repeal means QLDC will have to fund hundreds of millions of dollars of water infrastructure. Under Labour's plans, they would have had to fund the next one-to-two years, now it will be at least 10 years.
Meaghan Miller, QLDC Corporate Services general manager, says the uncertainty has disrupted preparation of QLDC's own Long Term Plan 2024-2034 (LTP).
“It was no secret the Coalition Government parties all had intentions to repeal this approach to water service delivery if elected to office," Miller says.
"Our property and infrastructure team had been developing a ‘shadow plan’ of Three Waters capital projects for years 3-10 of the LTP in parallel, acknowledging there would be further detailed work required if or when these were to be added back in."
Tomorrow, at the full council meeting, councillors will be asked to delay adopting the plan by up to three months, so that detailed work can be finalised.
Council’s indicative workings on the ‘shadow plan’ currently show that Three Waters investment is likely to be in the range of $900m to $1.2bn over the 2024-2034 LTP.
This compares to $770m included in the last long-term plan, the 2021-2031 LTP.
This is an only an estimate, however, and will be confirmed as council works through the full financial impacts of the Government’s directive and undertakes the required public consultation.
"While deferring the plan does have several operational implications, it does allow us the necessary time to complete the additional work required to plan for water service delivery throughout the full ten year period, along with considering potential alternative funding options and affordability for the community,” Miller says.
"Three waters makes up a significant portion of overall Council expenditure and service delivery so like every other Council across the country, we will be having some challenging conversations around investment prioritisation and larger than expected rates increases."
In the same council meeting, councillors will be asked to fund a $17.65 million increase to the budget for the Queenstown Arterial Road - the bypass connecting Frankton Road to Gorge Road. That more than doubles the council costs from the original estimate of $35m to $78m, with Central Government funding the other $50m of the total $128m costs.
If approved on Thursday, the LTP deferral has the following implications:
- Timeframes: It is proposed the LTP is adopted by 19 September 2024. Public consultation is planned to occur between 28 June – 29 July 2024.
- User Fees and Charges: Many of the Council’s user fees and charges must be reviewed and adopted within each financial year. Consultation on these will occur separately in April.
- Community grants: Community grants will be run as a separate process which is expected to happen in April.
- Development Contributions: Consultation on the Development Contributions Policy will happen at the same time as the LTP.
- Deferral of Annual Report 2023-2024: Deferring the LTP will have a flow on effect, meaning the Annual Report 2023-2024 will be adopted no later than 31 December 2024.
If approved, more details including FAQs and specific timeframes for community grant applications will be published on the QLDC website and shared widely.