Local government leaders have the privilege, and pleasure, of shaping our local communities. Seeing our people and communities slowly, but surely, thrive certainly keeps me motivated. By Paula Southgate, Mayor of Hamilton.
Despite all that we have achieved there is no doubt, that currently, local government leaders from across the country face enormous and complex challenges.
This in large part, relates to funding our future.
In the lead up to the election, we’ve heard many promises and pledges and the new incoming shadow Government wants to put the country “back on track by rebuilding the economy”. We absolutely agree that we want to see our economy grow, but now we need to understand how, and when, this will be achieved, and how it will impact on the work of our local government sector.
We play a crucial role in growing our cities and towns. We deliver the essential services that our communities depend on. This includes water, roads, waste collection, parks, playgrounds, sports facilities and much more. These things are vital to liveable communities.
Yet, like any business, we are not immune to current difficult financial conditions: Rising inflation, depreciation, significant interest rates increases, escalating construction costs, and soaring transportation expenses.
Energy costs more, insurance costs more, and labour costs more. Hamilton currently has $1 billion worth of unfunded infrastructure required to keep up with its growth. Our city owns over $6 billion of assets. The cost of maintaining these is significant.
Quite bluntly, it is hard to fund business as usual. These times are not usual, they are extraordinary.
We are not alone. Across the country councils face the same challenges. There are limited funding options with big rates increases on the cards, and all at a time when our country is facing a cost-of-living crisis.
Councils do not have an endless source of money. Rates, fees, and debt are our primary sources of revenue, and even those have limits. The ability of Councils to do more for their communities is getting harder.
Our message to the incoming Government, from up and down the country, must be very clear: Work with us and invest in us.
We know our communities best. And, Hamilton has a plan to grow our city, our subregion, working with neighbouring councils and local communities including iwi, and prepare for the huge growth coming our way.
We simply cannot significantly progress on our own. While we have many of the tools and expertise it will not be enough.
Now, more than ever, we must address our funding limitations and ensure that councils have the necessary resources to meet the needs of our communities.
We need government partnership. We need active, funded partnerships where we identify win-wins for communities for the benefit of our entire nation. The current ad hoc funding models have failed to provide long term targeted investment. This just isn’t working.
Over the past five years the pace and scale of change imposed upon us has been immense. Staff have been under huge pressure, diverted from other everyday work, and elected members have had to front foot some law changes with huge impact on this city.
We are bound by the law to implement government requirements. It costs us significantly to meet increasing government compliance standards, regulations and policies.
As a Council we have been tirelessly navigating the evolving legislative requirements, and tackling funding demands, while striving to keep our communities running smoothly.
We need to halt unfunded government mandates and constant change. These burden local government with new responsibilities and often outstrip our resources.
This practice not only strains our capabilities but ultimately hinders our ability to serve our communities effectively.
Now that the new government has taken office, it is imperative that our voices are heard while any new policies and plans are being formulated and executed.
A united local government front
Of course, we know central Government also has limited resources. Unfortunately, in many areas this has led to councils competing against each other, and against government agencies, for support.
This cannot be a battle of the loudest voice; instead, we need a united, coordinated dialogue with central government that considers the local voice and needs.
On social issues
As a Mayor, I see and hear daily from our struggling communities. I see struggle, but I also see the amazing things that our communities do to make a difference.
While issues like getting families out of emergency housing, reducing crime, and supporting youth into better future opportunities is primarily a central Government issue, Council can play an important role through partnerships, if properly resourced.
Government needs to come to the table with us. It needs to be considered and thoughtful about designing our future in partnership with local government.
The Local Government review (Future For Local Government) is a good place to start. We need to be clear about what works for us.
The new Government needs to understand us better – and we need to fix the funding partnership.
If unified – we can do much more.