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Mapua project brought forward in Council plan

April 15th, 2016
[by David Armstrong]

Less than a week after Motueka residents were told there would be no unbudgeted spending by TDC in the 2016/17 year, Council has decided to release $300,000 for an unbudgeted Mapua project feasibility study.

At two public forums held by the Motueka Community Board this month the Mayor and Council CEO were adamant that Council's improved financial performance would still not allow $140,000 to be allocated in 2016/17 to start early planning on a new Motueka Library. (See our earlier story.)

The mayor several times gave his word that the library development would remain next in line for community facilities, early in the 2020s, while the CEO passionately pleaded with residents to not throw away the opportunity to improve the finances further by bringing forward planned projects.

At the Council's Engineering Services Committee meeting yesterday, Councillors voted to add to the Annual Plan the cost of a feasibility study into present and future needs for Mapua's water and wastewater systems.

The cost will be "approximately $300,000", which is is unbudgeted - that is a new expenditure above that agreed in the 2016/17 Annual Plan.

It is understood the margin was one vote. (This has now been seen to be incorrect. There was in fact one vote against the plan - see below.)

The feasibility study will take place in 2016/2017 and "will allow selection of preferred design option, sizing and programming for both water and wastewater". The study "will consider that works be brought forward in the future - if needed".

The project was proposed by Council staff and supported by Engineering Services Committee chairman Trevor Norriss, a resident of Motueka but Councillor for the Moutere-Waimea Ward which includes Mapua.

In a press release, he said several water pipe breakages over the past year in Mapua were a concern, and the Council wanted to be in a position to react quickly if the situation worsened.

"As pipes near the end of their life, breakages quickly become more frequent. A feasibility study will let us know if we are reaching that point with the existing water pipes in Mapua and allow us to act sooner if we need to replace them.

"The study will tell us the best pipe design and routes, as well as give us better information on demand, the benefits and risks of the upgrades, and detailed costings.

"We were planning to undertake significant infrastructure work in Mapua between 2017 and 2028, but we may have to consider bringing some of those upgrades forward to make sure Mapua residents continue to have a secure water supply."

Cr Norris said that, in addition to the pipe breakages, growth in Mapua is testing the limit of the current infrastructure.

"Both the water and wastewater networks in Mapua are near, or at, capacity so the system cannot accommodate growth over and above the development that already has consent.

"The feasibility study will give us a better idea of how we can manage the effect of growth and a realistic path forward over time."

Cr Norriss said the outcome of the feasibility study would be fed into the Council's 2018-2028 Long Term Plan. That may require some work to be done earlier than envisaged in the current 2015-2015 plan.

Community Board chairman Paul Hawkes said this news again showed that Motueka's need for a new library was not being taken seriously enough, and that TDC could indeed allow a relatively small sum to be released for an important development.

Undergrounding of High Street power lines
There was good news at the meeting for Motueka residents that Council agreed to go ahead with the undergrounding of power and communication lines along the last stretch of the southern end of High Street.

The stretch between the roundabout and King Edward Street was undergrounded last year, and the remainder between the clock tower and Whakarewa Street will be done in 2016/17, in conjunction with Network Tasman.


Comment by Cr Mark Greening:
[Posted 17 April 2016]

"It is understood the margin was one vote." - Wrong. One voted against the resolution - me.

Why? I felt it should be undertaken in 2017-18 year. Given the LTP is reviewed in 2018. And given we are not planning to spend capital (on pipe replacement) until much later. Staff would also have time to reshuffle workload - so that its a sunk cost (done in-house), rather than an external consultancy cost. If the pipes fail earlier, we will have to replace them anyway.

Staff reason for the study was to get a better handle on the assets (and options), before a major failure occurs. They seemed to suggest their focus in the study would be less on assessing growth needs, and more about maintenance issues. They appeared to be suggesting a failure on the pipes was likely to be earlier than expected. The PVC in the pipes is poor and prone to bursts on Stafford drive.

They also suggested in response to my suggestion to defer until 2017 that they needed more time before the LTP process began. A point that swayed Cr Dowler. However, in my opinion, given this work was going to be done by consultants, how much time did they need to read and digest a report in the lead up to the 2018 LTP?

"$300,000", which is is unbudgeted - that is a new expenditure above that agreed in the 2016/17 Annual Plan" - Correct, but funds are coming out of surpluses (from 3 closed accounts). Funds that would have been applied to reduce debt.

Comment by Mayor Richard Kempthorne:
[Posted 19 April 2016]

Before the development of the Long Term Plan we received a very clear message from the community that they wanted us to reduce debt and focus on prudent financial management. Tasman ratepayers are already seeing the benefits from the Council's sustained focus on debt reduction and reduced spending, with a lower than predicted rate increase next year and a significant reduction in the predicted debt level.

The Council's debt for the 2014-15 financial year was $28 million lower than projected. It achieved an operating surplus of $8.6 million and we are well on track to achieving similar levels for the 2015-16 year.

Despite the positive changes we have made financially we are the first to admit there is still work to do - our targets are not short term. However, this long term financial plan is not being achieved by deferring or ignoring essential work. Working closely with management, Councillors have prioritised the work that needs to be done when it is needed based on an improved understanding of our assets.

That is why we have brought forward the Mapua feasibility study announced last week and not the Motueka Library upgrade. While the library is included in the Long Term Plan as an important need for the Motueka Community, the safe and secure supply of water to the existing residents of Mapua needs to take precedence. It does not displace the Library or any other projects.

The feasibility study has been able to be bought forward using credit balances in accounts without a rates increase or use of debt.

The study relates to the basic reliable provision of drinking water for the whole of the Mapua settlement. At the time the 2015-2025 Long Term Plan was developed the Mapua pipeline was near the end of asset life and while staff expected the proposed timeline for reinvestment to be adequate, there was a risk failure of the pipe may occur necessitating earlier intervention and cost. That risk is very real now, thus the need for the feasibility plan.

The pipe brings water to the settlement and when it fails it affects the whole Mapua settlement. Bringing forward the work will have no implications on rates.

Sound financial and operational management have made it possible to act responsibly in the meeting of our financial plans and the essential needs of the communities we serve.

Comment by Jim Butler:
[Posted 21 April 2016]

Thank you very much Councillor Greening. It shows up whatever the Mayor and CEO may say, the actions taken by TDC can be very different.

I am very sorry you were not supported by the Motueka Councillors, because I fear this Mapua feasibility study, if coupled with a failure to proceed with the Lee Valley Dam, could be the thin end of a wedge to resurrect the Coastal Pipeline.

A potential financial disaster for many Motueka residents. For not only could the level in our aquifer be reduced during the dry summer months, leaving many households pumping air instead of water, we Motueka ratepayers may be expected to bear much of its cost.

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