Community & Environment

Blunt council report challenges voters and candidates

Hamilton City Council Chief Executive Richard Briggs is urging those standing for elected positions on the Council to “be well-informed and base their views on fact”.

The Council released its ‘Shape Your City’ pre-election report today outlining the state of the city’s finances, major projects planned and the challenges facing the city. Pre-election reports are required by law and are prepared independently of elected members.

Mr Briggs says potential candidates as well as voters should read the report carefully. It poses some tough questions and he makes no apology for trying to shake things up.

“The report’s pretty blunt but it needs to be. Hamilton’s a great, growing city but its leaders must deal with some serious issues and make some big decisions. Candidates need to understand the complexities of the job and the issues they will be grappling with on behalf of all of us,” Mr Briggs says.

“Council will be delivering $2B worth of new work over the next decade so candidates owe it to the city to have a clear position on key issues so we all know what they stand for. The city and voters deserve nothing less.”

The report outlines five key challenges for the city and includes detail on rates, debt, balancing the books and the Council’s investments.

“Like it or not, managing growth is one of the biggest challenges Hamilton faces. Elected members will need to make some compromises on what they are prepared to fund – and what they’re not – and those are things they need to be thinking about now and being clear with voters about,” Mr Briggs says.

The report poses questions about Hamilton’s identity, the role of technology and the need to do things differently in local government. There are direct questions for candidates and voters to consider, on issues ranging from climate change to affordable housing.

“We need to be challenging the status quo and thinking differently about the role of the Council in the city’s future,” Mr Briggs says.

“For example, continuing to increase rates above inflation is financially unsustainable for ratepayers. We need to look at how we work with a bigger range of partners, including government and the private sector. The days of every council ‘going it alone’ are over.”

Candidates standing on a single platform of ‘reducing rates’ should be prepared to answer some tough questions from voters, he says.

“To reduce rates or our borrowing levels, we’ll have to cut projects or services already outlined in our 10-Year Plan. If a candidate is promising to cut rates, people should know what they are intending to cut to pay for that, or what new sources of funding they have found.”

Mr Briggs says one of the city’s biggest challenges was involving Hamiltonians in the business of the Council.

“It’s clear we need to build better relationships with the people who live here and we are now taking a completely different approach in that space,” he says.

“Our engagement levels are reflected in how many people vote. In the last election, only a third of those eligible to vote did and Hamilton voter turnout was lower than in Tauranga, Christchurch, Dunedin, Palmerston North and even Nelson,” he says.

“Our Council needs to be more relevant to our community – I think that’s one of the biggest challenges ahead so I’m keen to hear candidates’ views on that.”

To encourage interest in the election, Hamilton City Council has already launched a website yourcityelections.co.nz. At the end of August, the site will include details on all confirmed candidates and will ask each of them to state their views on the challenges outlined in the pre-election report.

Mr Briggs says he made no apology for putting the challenges to all candidates and asking them to share their views and ideas.

“That’s what democracy is about. We can’t engage people in the running of the city if we don’t talk about the key challenges faced by the Council and, ultimately, our ratepayers. The decisions our Mayor and Councillors make will matter – and matter for a long time. If we get it wrong now, our city will suffer the consequences for a long time.”

The report is available at yourcityelections.co.nz and hard copies are available at the Council’s Municipal Building in Garden Place and at Hamilton City Libraries branches.

Nominations for Hamilton City Council’s Mayor and 12 Councillor positions open today.

For more information and to download a nomination form, visit yourcityelections.co.nz/stand.

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