The Council is progressively shifting its vision from a “generic” one, primarily based on conservative financial management of rates and infrastructure, to a more expansive view of community-led initiatives and active promotion of the district’s economy.
The Council is in the process of solidifying the changes which commenced with the election of the Mayor in 2013, and the appointment of the Chief Executive in 2014.
The decision not to amalgamate as part of the Wellington super-city has enabled some of these changes to be accelerated, and the Council is strongly motivated to establish a clear and fresh vision for the district.
Investing money well
The Council has sound financial management practices, which has ensured that the level of rates increases remains affordable for its community. However, there is scope for improving the quality of the Council’s financial analysis and reporting.
The financial strategy has been based on a sustainable balance between rates affordability and adequate levels of asset renewal. After many years of fiscal constraint, the Council is endeavouring to take a more balanced approach to financial management.
There is still a strong focus on rates control, with the maximum increase being the Local Government Cost Index increase plus one per cent, and on ensuring that the basics of infrastructure renewal occur every year. This is complemented by additional expenditure on issues of importance to the community such as investment in economic development.
Delivering what’s important
The Council demonstrates a sound level of competence in delivering its operational services and in its knowledge and management of the key infrastructure assets. It engages well with its community about services and facilities. However, it could better address issues of cost-analysis, performance measurement and operational efficiency.
The on-going uncertainty over amalgamation, initially with Greater Wellington, and now within the Wairarapa, has hampered progress on options for improving service delivery.
The Council acknowledges that while it may not be feasible to review some service areas, there are immediate opportunities for working more effectively with the other Wairarapa councils.
Listening and responding
Staff and councillors have a strong commitment to good communication and engagement. They are good at engaging stakeholders and communities of interest on specific tactical issues and initiatives. However, there are opportunities to create more alignment between the “doing” and the overall vision. There are significant opportunities to improve communications to the community through the Council’s website and other digital channels.
The district is diverse in terms of age and ethnicity. Its Māori/Iwi groups Kahungunu ki Wairarapa and Rangitāne o Wairarapa play an increasingly important leadership role in a community whose socio-economic profile provides some significant challenges.
The Council’s “community-led, Council supported” philosophy is an important part of its communications and stakeholder engagement. Stakeholders believe the Council demonstrates a positive commitment to taking their feedback on board, even when change does not occur as fast as they would like.
In 2015, the Council, in partnership with the Wairarapa Times-Age, launched a campaign called “My Masterton” to increase jobs and population in the district. The campaign was strongly supported by local businesses and stakeholders were consistently positive about its execution. While there is little data on the direct correlation between the campaign and the positive growth in the district, the campaign is perceived by stakeholders as a good example of what the Council, business and community can deliver together.