Rates shock discussion creating confusion: Hardaker
Even Julie Hardaker is stunned by Hamilton City Council's recent rates shock.
The former mayor is part of a chorus of concern in response to a 12 per cent rate hike proposal from Mayor Andrew King, which came on the back of a grim presentation of the city's accounts.
Another ex-mayor, Margaret Evans, called for an independent audit of the city books, as has first-term Councillor Geoff Taylor, who said there appeared to be gross mismanagement at play.
King has said the previous council under-rated for six years, but chief executive Richard Briggs says the rates question is about how fast councillors want to get Hamilton City Council to financial sustainability.
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Hardaker said the recent debate on the state of the city's books "completely contradicts the facts as I know them to be and is creating confusion".
The mayor from 2010 to 2016 was known for her meticulous approach, and said she was satisfied the city books were in good shape when she finished last October.
"I had 100 per cent confidence in management and the advice that was being given. Based on what I read in the newspapers, there seems to be a lot of contradiction about that advice and that gives me cause for real concern," she said.
"[My] council took the advice of management and the buck stops with the CEO and management in giving accurate advice."
There are challenges ahead of the new council, but that's business as usual, she said.
Councillors have made decisions, which is their choice, but they also have the choice to ask staff to find budget savings elsewhere.
"You can't rate the public for everything. You have to make priority decisions."
Briggs agrees there has been confusion and understands where Hardaker is coming from.
Annual 3.8 per cent rate rises will get council to a sustainable financial state, he said.
"The challenge the mayor has put forward is: are we getting there fast enough, given the growth challenges that are heading our way?"
More discussions will follow in the 10-Year Plan process, when council will also look at issues such as cost structures and levels of service provided to the city.
Council has to prioritise its spending every year, Briggs said, but there's an extra challenge in 2018/19 because of added depreciation costs from when council's assets were revalued.
Mayor Andrew King defended Briggs, saying he was just the messenger.
"He's being shot when all he's done is tell the people what's happened.
"When you've been told that things are going so well, it's very difficult when you get told it's not going well," he said.
"We need to live within our means."
The rates shock episode was a hit to the city's reputation, Cr Angela O'Leary said.
"I did spend all weekend going over all of the annual reports and annual plans and finance reporting ... since 2014. There was nothing I found, absolutely nothing, that would cause ratepayers to have any concern about the way that the books have been run and whether or not we've been rating correctly.
"The messages that are coming out, they just don't stack up with everything that I know and everything that has been reported."