Matamata-Piako District Council is a well-performing and well positioned Council. Its balance sheet and community support enable the Council to advance a pragmatic vision and an affordable investment programme. However, there is also strong potential for the Council to further enable the district and its communities to grow.
The Council is effective in this area. It appreciates that to lead and enable its community the Council requires a compelling vision, strong governance and affordable operations. While the Council’s direction is largely accepted by the community, some stakeholders question if the boldness and pace of its implementation is ambitious enough, particularly as the Council is in a strong financial position to meet change.
The current (2015-25) Long Term Plan has a broad and functional vision. Core business functions are carried out at affordable levels to keep rates low for a largely fixed-income population. The vision and goals permeate Council priorities, strategies, plans, policies and structure, and the community and stakeholders are generally in agreement with the Council’s strategic direction and priorities.
The Council has low debt and one of the lowest levels of rates in the Waikato region. After providing for its core business activities, the Council uses its remaining resources in areas such as economic development, social assistance (eg pensioner housing) and tourism.
Local business and Māori/Iwi consider the Council is “getting there” in its direction, but argue for a bolder vision and commitment in delivering the vision. The Council’s relationships with Māori/Iwi are developing.
The Council meets prescribed financial benchmarks and is generally performing well. The Council’s financial position benefits from a conservative balance sheet, low borrowing and the use of development contributions for new infrastructure, which is recouped over time. The Council has a strong risk management approach.
The Council is both technically and strategically strong in its financial management and reporting. It is also well aware of areas for further improvement.
A conservative balance sheet and low borrowing underpins the Council’s financial strategy. The rationale for the strategy is to keep rates low (especially for an aging population on fixed incomes) and to provide greater resilience in the event of either new opportunities or economic downturns or crises.
The Council has a range of income streams including from rates and charges on some non-core businesses. The council would benefit from zero-based budgeting and its Annual Report should fully report the carrying over of uncompleted projects into the following financial year. However, the Council is prepared to consider both practices to improve financial planning and accountability. Procurement policy has been reviewed, and full business cases for major projects are being considered. Financial reporting is in everyday language and generally well presented, except for the level of detail provided on budget variances.
Performance generally meets good practice standards. The Council manages its assets well but would benefit from better asset knowledge, subjecting its community assets to the same performance criteria as infrastructure assets, and making reviews of service delivery a priority. With growth and projected changes to land use and development, future infrastructure costs could be significant for the Council.
The Council’s cautious approach to growth affects infrastructure investment in the Long Term Plan and the 30-year Infrastructure Strategy. The Council has made large investments in infrastructure, and is working to improve asset data provision and risk analysis for existing infrastructure assets. However, community and well-being assets are not subject to the same scrutiny or cost recovery approach.
The Council has partnered with business (and will continue to do so) in order to invest in local industries’ infrastructure needs, and it has done this on a debt-recovery basis. Longer-term decisions on stormwater and transport infrastructure are pending.
Future infrastructure investment could be a significant cost centre for the Council. The Matamata by-pass, for example, could mean expenditure of $20 million in the near term. Drinking water availability will be the major issue in providing infrastructure to the district’s processing plants. Procedurally, the Council realises the need for individual strategies for assets such as property, parks, stormwater, roading and wastewater.
The Council has adequate knowledge of its roading and underground infrastructure data. However, the infrastructure team acknowledged that it was working to improve data confidence levels, so that it could develop a better prioritised and more forward looking renewals programme. The lack of a well-balanced performance measurement framework means the Council prioritises infrastructure on perceived public satisfaction levels and issues. With an improved performance framework the Council can focus more on quality, efficiency and value for money.
While shared services (transport, wastewater, stormwater, property consents, etc) are growing, reviews under s.17A of the Local Government Act are not yet a priority and were described by staff as “for the most part … a legislative compliance exercise”.
Stakeholders generally believe the Council should adopt a bolder vision and should plan for future growth in the district, which is becoming the food bowl for large urban centres nearby as well as being increasingly attractive as a tourist destination and lifestyle option.
Better than competent
The Council is an active communicator and is continuing to develop its areas of engagement, benefiting from an overall approach of clarity and simplification in all Council expressions. Taking stakeholder relations to the next level, particularly with Māori/Iwi, will assist the Council and the community to work collaboratively to facilitate growth and manage change.
Generally, the Council is performing well on internal and external engagement and communications. Offline and online material is well presented, although this clarity and simplicity needs to be extended across all documentation.
The Council lacks an overall communications strategy, and the new Long Term Plan will be an opportunity for it to adopt a more succinct vision that will drive all Council engagement and communications activities. However, while there is no overall strategy, internal and external communications appear to be performing well.
The Mayor’s and the Chief Executive’s personal relationships with business, Māori/Iwi and the community are strong. These relationships could be developed to include the whole Council. The Mayor is strong on translating consultation into action. Businesses agree with the Council’s direction, but are frustrated with the lack of boldness in the Council’s vision and the pace of development. There is also a need for the Council to step-up to a more mature relationship with Māori/Iwi, some in the post-settlement phase of their Treaty claims.
Staff satisfaction ratings are reasonably high, and areas of concern are actively being dealt with.