Councils cut spending, Waikato District makes big gains

Waikato District Council is the rising financial star of local authorities in the Waikato.

Statistics New Zealand has released financial information for local authorities for the year ended June 2013.

Waikato District Council's operating income has been steadily increasing since 2009.

Its operating balance jumped $8.3 million from 2012 to 2013, putting it into surplus from deficit, despite an operating expenditure that has been increasing faster than most Waikato authorities.

Gavin Ion, the council's chief executive, said the increased income was from a valuation of previously unrecorded in-ground assets, additional rating income from growth in Pokeno and the northern part of the district, and higher-than-expected dividends from council-owned company Strada Corporation.

He said savings were made in personnel costs, partly due to restructuring and delays in recruitment.

Total local authority spending on core services (operating expenditure) has decreased for the first time in the Waikato region since 2001, and for the first time across New Zealand since the survey began in 1993.

Otorohanga District Council had the largest fall in operating income, dropping 7.1 per cent to $13.8m.

Operating expenditure across the region dropped from $672.8m to $667m. Nationally, the total expenditure of local authorities dropped from $8.5 billion to $8.3b. Hamilton City Council and Waitomo District Council had the largest drops in operating expenditure, both falling 5.3 per cent. Hauraki District Council, Matamata-Piako District Council, Waikato District Council and Waikato Regional Council experienced an increase in operating expenditure.

Growth in operating income for the year ended June 2011 was flat across most of the region's local authorities, but Waikato District Council's income increased 14.3 per cent to $83.4m.

Other local authorities with increased operating income were Hamilton City Council, Hauraki District Council, South Waikato District Council and Waitomo District Council. Operating income across the Waikato region increased 0.5 per cent to $634m, lower than the national increase of 1 per cent.

Waikato District Council was the only Waikato authority to move from a 2012 operating deficit to a 2013 operating surplus. It went from a 2012 deficit of $3.6m, to a surplus of $4.8m in 2013.

The largest drop in operating deficit was at Hamilton City Council, which has had increasing deficits since 2005, with a brief respite in 2009. The council's operating deficit dropped by 29 per cent from $40.6m to $28.8m.

Councils that went from operating surplus to operating deficit were Thames-Coromandel District Council, Waipa District Council and Waikato Regional Council. The latter went from a $6.2m to a $72,000 deficit.

The total operating balance of local authorities across the region dropped from $38.9m to $31.2m, following the national trend of an improvement on 2012's deficit.

Waikato Times