OPINION: The year is nearly at an end and I guess all of us will remember that as a child it seemed to take forever to get to Christmas, writes Frana Cardno in Southern Focus.
Now I am a senior adult, I am sure all will agree with me it all goes too fast. So it's time again to reflect on where the year has gone and what we have achieved.
Council has had an extremely busy year in 2012 with several large legislative requirements all falling together in the one year.
We have worked throughout the year on our representation review where we have to review how Southland District ratepayers are represented on council and within their communities.
We consulted in the middle of the year on what people wanted and then went out again with our proposed option in November. Because we received six appeals, the decision now lies with the Local Government Commission.
I have had a lot of people say to me the present system isn't broken, why are you trying to fix it? I must admit council felt that way too, but central government legislation requires each councillor to represent the same number of ratepayers plus/minus 10 per cent and the present system doesn't do that. This requirement means communities of interest are not really taken into account and it may suit the cities, but it doesn't work for rural New Zealand.
We have also notified our Proposed District Plan 2012 in November and it is open for submissions until February 25, 2013. The district plan is a very important document because it sets out how council will manage environmental issues in the District in the future.
Again people have said why are you doing this? We started work on the last one nearly 20 years ago and the district has changed dramatically in that time. The new proposed plan is how we think we should manage our district now and in the future.
Some of the proposed changes include establishing commercial precincts in some of the towns, new rules around biodiversity, forestry harvesting, gravel extraction and staff accommodation, new industrial zones and greater scrutiny around subdivision of land in flood risk areas.
It is essential you do have your say on this because it is so important for your community and district.
We also consulted earlier in the year on our long term plan for the next 10 years - it does get somewhat confusing for the public with all these plans, I am sure, but once again central government legislation requires us to do this. The long-term plan sets out what we plan to do in the district for the next 10 years and what that is going to cost.
All these plans and requirements do prove to be costly for local government.
A disappointment for the council this year has been the dragged-out process for getting under way on the Around the Mountain Cycle Trail. We were very excited in 2009 when the trail was chosen to be one of Prime Minister John Key's Quick Start trails and our small Northern Southland communities were also very enthusiastic as they saw the trail as a way to stimulate their local economy. It has been frustrating for all with the delays as the goal posts keep shifting. We want to get started but we can't quite yet - hopefully in the New Year.
Another disappointment has been the ongoing battle around government funding of rural roads and we are going to have to make some hard decisions on where to spend the money soon.
But we have achieved many positives this year - the Stewart Island visitors' levy was agreed on by government and we have just adopted the policy and bylaw that will allow us to enact this. This will give us some more funds to spend on infrastructure on the island.
Broadband is into rural schools, thanks to hard work from Venture Southland, we held a parade in Tokanui for the two medal-winning Paralympian cyclists, and we celebrated the graduates on several Alive programmes. I am very proud of the Alive programme, which is one of the most successful in the country, mainly because of the ongoing mentoring given to the at-risk young adults after the live-in programme finishes. About 80 per cent of the graduates get into training and jobs, which is an excellent result.
Our Way Southland, one of the shared services southern councils are involved in, is looking at parenting courses and again you might ask why is local government involved in that, but it comes back to this - it is what our communities have asked us to do.
There are many other positives happening in our communities, some with council help like the cemetery signs, and others by the communities themselves because we all know Southlanders are used to rolling up their sleeves and getting on with it.
You can rest assured that 2013 is going to be equally busy for all of us and so I want to take this chance to wish everyone in Southland a very merry Christmas with family and friends and all the best for the New Year.
» Frana Cardno is the Southland District mayor.
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