The Council is largely responsive to community needs and is performing competently in most assessment areas. There are major service needs for the district, and the Council has a low appetite for risk. With councillor commitment, a sound financial setting, requisite operating expertise, a continuous improvement ethos and
community input, the Council is well placed to further increase its effectiveness.
Councillors are functioning well in some areas. A formal evaluation of their performance would assist in identifying areas for improvement which, once acted on, should lead to a higher-performing council.
The Council has a strong and capable Mayor and Chief Executive, who work well together. However, the full potential of this Council is somewhat limited by the mixed capability of councillors.
It is also limited by the capacity of third-tier managers, who expressed concerns over their lack of resources for executing plans effectively.
The Council has returned to a fiscally conservative position with prudent management of debt and risk that better reflects core funding from a reasonably static revenue base. However, if large projects are approved, even with possible funding from central government, they will increase Council debt levels.
The Council has taken the past five years to recover from a series of considerable rises in rates. Its financial management is now generally prudent, resulting in lower rate increases and adequate delivery of core services.
The Council’s intention to embark on a major capital investment programme will introduce considerable financial cost and risk that will require close and ongoing attention, in terms of both the initial decision-making and the later monitoring of the effects of those decisions.
The Council has improved its service delivery through mostly in-house planning and oversight. This approach has been extended to the management of large capital projects. As well, innovation in the delivery of noninfrastructure services has led to novel solutions and cost savings.
Whakatāne District Council has undertaken significant changes to improve its service management, delivery and monitoring. Many contracted and dislocated services have been moved in-house, allowing improved Council oversight.
These improvements are expected to assist the Council in several areas, including: upgrading an aging infrastructure responding to demands that will result from a gradual increase in the district’s growth; responding to the requirements of National Policy Statements and meeting ever-growing consenting requirements.
Though the Council agrees it needs greater strategic alignment in planning services, knowledge of its assets is generally good. For example, the Council has asset management plans for strategic infrastructure activities and areas such Whakatāne Airport (a council controlled organisation) and other council infrastructure assets. Council is aware of the need to resource infrastructure, planning and enforcement at a level that will meet demands.
For non-core assets, there is good use of advanced business plans and s.17A reviews under the Local Government Act to increase service efficiencies. For example, mowing services have been brought back in-house, and this move is projected to save $1.35 million over 10 years. Innovation in animal control and freedom camping enforcement is also increasing efficiencies.
Better than competent
The Council performs well in this area, and could perform even better by having a stronger strategic focus that includes customer services.
The Council is advanced in its practice of communications and engagement, especially at the tactical level. Strategic communications and engagement are important to the Council’s relationships, particularly with business and Māori/Iwi.
A more strategic focus (which would include measuring communications and engagement to understand their effectiveness) should lead to improved alignment between customer services and communications.
It would also help all areas of the Council to be consistent in its messaging.