Hardaker aims to reinvest in Hamilton

AARON LEAMAN AND ELTON SMALLMAN
Last updated 09:58 06/03/2014
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JULIE HARDAKER
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JULIE HARDAKER: ‘‘I just want to get on with the business."

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After three years of austerity budgets and painful belt-tightening, Hamilton's mayor says the city is back in business.

Mayor Julie Hardaker this week delivered her first draft annual budget using new executive mayoral powers and presented a host of proposals aimed at reinvesting in the city.

The cornerstones of her vision are an ambitious plan to fast-track development at the Hamilton Gardens and the completion of a Waikato River plan for the city.

The initiatives appear to have the backing of most councillors with draft annual plan deliberations being wrapped up in one day.

Ms Hardaker said the council's financial performance was tracking better than planned with predicted efficiency savings of $15.4 million this financial year.

"What I'm most encouraged about is that we come into the budgeting process in a much better position than we had even planned ourselves," she said.

Council chief executive Barry Harris said staff had delivered substantial savings in difficult times which now gave council options.

Fast-tracking development at Hamilton Gardens will see council introduce a targeted rate per property of $10 a year, for four years.

Councillor Dave Macpherson said Ms Hardaker was "on track" with the new targeted rate but was worried it unfairly targeted low income earners.

"It's a departure from anything we've done in Hamilton before and it affects lowest value properties most and those people generally are those of lowest income," he said.

Councillor Martin Gallagher said the gardens proposal was an "evolution of a vision" that started decades ago as a waste site and, along with Lake Waiwhakareke, had become Hamilton highlights.

"These are both absolute jewels in the crown and these are both projects that will put us on the international stage in my view," he said.

In contrast, the president of the Hamilton Residents and Ratepayers Association, Rod Bowman, said using a targeted rate to fund projects set a "dangerous precedent".

"What it means is that in future whenever council wants more money for its pet projects it just slaps another $10 or whatever on to the rates bill. Ratepayers are already facing a 3.8 per cent rates increase and this is just another cost."

Mr Bowman also criticised a council proposal to let under-5s swim free at council pools, saying young swimmers were more prone to have "accidents" in the pool."

Meanwhile, councillors agreed to allocate a further $150,000 to the $50,000 already spent to finish the development of a Waikato River plan for the city. The plan would be completed in August.

Ms Hardaker said increasing the city's focus on the river was "an absolute no-brainer". "It's a simple decision . . . which will have a huge impact on the city's future."

The draft annual plan is expected to be adopted by council on March 27 and released for public consultation in April.

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- Waikato Times

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