WAIKATO OPINION: Local government funding’s game of cards

“Pick a card, any card, what will it be”.  We’ve all seen these games played by street hustlers – on TV, if not actually on the streets of Hamilton.  It seems like you’ve always got a great chance – a one-in-three chance – and you could be the winner.  But the right card never turns up, and the street dealer always wins.


It’s a bit like that with local government funding.  There are only so many levers; rates, debt, development contributions, and user charges, that can be pulled to make council finances stack up.  But whichever card you pick, it seems you always lose. 


No one wants rates to go up.  No one wants council to borrow more money.  No one wants to pay more for a section.  No one wants to pay to go to the park. 


However, we need a financially sustainable city and therefore must invest in infrastructure for the future: pipes, roads, and water treatment plants, alongside parks, playgrounds, theatres, and libraries. 


We don’t want to be like the big city to the north, that debated a rail loop link for 90 years before deciding to go ahead, by which time the cost had become astronomical.  There is a risk Hamilton could head that way.  People are already saying Wairere Drive is getting congested, even though it’s relatively new.   

The recent Productivity Commission report on Better Urban Planning has highlighted that the current local government funding system doesn’t work.  You pick a card, but the dealer has already shuffled the deck. 


 As a growing City – 161,000 and counting – Hamilton needs substantial investment in infrastructure to meet current and future needs.   It is also critical we don’t pass a fiscal disaster onto our children and grandchildren.  For Hamilton to remain a great place to live and work, smart investment is needed now.


We can’t just keep shuffling the deck, we’ll just end up shuffling the deckchairs.  What we need is a new way of doing things, more tools from Central Government, effective public-private partnerships, and a better conversation about how we manage and plan for growth.  Because it’s happening.


We need new thinking around infrastructure bonds, something more than 10-year government loans, and better use of new technologies. 


Property Council has already brought together Minister Nick Smith, Hamilton City Council’s growth manager, and private sector voices to help get the “Growth Conversation” started. 


We have plenty of people in the community willing to put their hands up to help the City’s future.  What we need to do is, work together, to ensure the Hamilton community nails the Ace.