Road costs key issue in plan debate
The Southland District Council's battle to balance roading costs with ongoing funding cuts from central Government was a key focus of hearings into its draft long-term plan yesterday.
Dave Wilson, The Roading Company managing director, said the council needed to continue to fight slashed subsidies from the Transport Ministry.
The district's roading network was integral to the New Zealand economy, as 11 per cent of export earnings came from Southland.
However, increased future spending in Auckland – responsible for just 3 per cent of exports – would be at the expense of the provinces, Mr Wilson said.
Southland has the largest roading network in the country, yet a further $1.5 million in maintenance funding and $200,000 in renewal funding was cut from the region's roading subsidy from central government in May.
Mr Wilson urged the council to return some sealed roads to gravel, and to focus roading expenditure on renewals instead of maintenance.
Simply maintaining roads was like painting over rust, he said.
"Basically, it's going backwards ... the only way of improving the network is if you're renewing it."
The model the district council used to allocate roading cost proportions to different industries also proved contentious for some – again.
Southland Farm Forestry spokesman Alistair Wilson told councillors the Morrison Low model allocated those costs based on the tonnage carried by each sector, but it was the combination of tonnage and the number of kilometres travelled that actually did the damage.
Allocated costs to the forestry sector were based on predictions, but historical data used when it came to dairying failed to take into account future growth, he said.
However, councillors also heard from those who believed the dairy industry was already paying more than its share.
Drummond dairy farmer David Lindsay said he believed a user-pays system would ensure those damaging the roads would have to foot the bill without penalising those whose use was not as heavy, while his father, Geoff, said climbing costs were a deterrent to people in business, such as those in the farming sector.
The council needed to consider the potential impact unfair costs could have on the region's economy and "take the handbrake off".
The Morrison Low model was also questioned by Federated Farmers spokesman David Cooper, who said others, such as the PricewaterhouseCoopers model, allocated costs more accurately based on sector.
If the district council was to consider returning some roads from sealed to gravel to reduce costs, it should do so only if it first consulted with the affected ratepayers, he said.
The proposed model would see the share of costs increase by 1.1 per cent for the residential sector, 6.7 per cent for mining, forestry, non-dairy, industrial, lifestyle and other sectors, and 9.9 per cent for the dairy sector.
The share of costs would decrease by 11.1 per cent for the commercial sector.
Hearings into the council's draft long-term plan, which outlines its planned direction from 2012 to 2022, began on Wednesday. Councillors will continue deliberations today. The final plan will be adopted on June 27.
- © Fairfax NZ News
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