Mowenna (Mo) Harding
Response to questionnaire:
" While I query the motives behind your questionnaire (particularly with regards to your negative judgement of candidates and therefore perceived bias towards other) one of the key issues I am campaigning for is ‘Better Communication’. And so I acknowledge your right to seek information from candidates on issues that you feel are important and have answered in the attached document.
I wish all candidates the very best in the up-coming elections."
[Mowenna Harding email 10 Sep 19]
Response by Mowenna (Mo) Harding for The Campaigners
1/ What inspired you to stand/continue as a Councillor?
I am a first-time candidate for Council and there are three key reasons as to why I have decided to stand. Firstly, whether we agree or disagree with the actions of local council, our community should be properly informed on issues and decisions that affect our home. This is essential, it isn’t happening well enough right now and it’s something I want to fix. Secondly, I believe Council should be representative of our whole community, not just those with ties to big business. I would bring a younger voice to Council, with a fresh perspective, free from ties to big business. Finally, I want to ensure that my two little ones and the next generation of Taupō residents aren’t burdened with ever-increasing and unaffordable costs of living and I feel our Council needs to realise the true cost of their existing responsibilities (financial and environmental) before entering into new commitments in order to rein in spending and manage debt more effectively, while at the same time balancing the needs of an increasing population and their needs.
2/ How would you represent ratepayers against ever growing bureaucracy of Local Government and in particular the CEO / management’s increasing control over councillors?
We live in a world governed by rules and regulations and Council is no different to everyday citizens in the respect that we all have to conduct ourselves within the realms of lawful responsibility. An element of bureaucracy therefore will inevitably always be present.
Having said this, a Councillors role is to make decisions on behalf of our district. Leading our district, guided by the CEO and his/her team. Councillors must be able to trust information provided to them by the CEO and team in order to make sound decisions. This element of trust must be backed up by accountability so I would be advocating for clear Key Performance Indicators (KPI’s) for our CEO, addressing issues that have been flagged in this respect.
3/ Will you investigate cost cutting measures such as a restructuring of council staff and salaries?
It is important to note that there is a clear separation of roles and responsibilities in regards to restructuring and salaries. Under s.42 of the Local Government Act 2002, the CEO is the only person DIRECTLY employed by the council itself (i.e. the elected council members).
Elected members are responsible for employing and monitoring the performance of the CEO. The CEO in turn is responsible for employing staff on behalf of the Council (including negotiation of terms of employment such as salaries).
In my opinion prudent spending in all areas is key and spending money to improve efficiencies is money well spent. It is essential to remunerate appropriately in order to attract and reward quality staff but this must be done with performance in mind. There may be times at which the Council has to spend money in the short term in order to save money in the longer term (e.g. spend on infrastructure maintenance or replacement now instead of being faced with greater expense if we experience catastrophic failure).
Since the CEO is the only employee I (as an elected member) could influence, I’d be advocating for prudent spending and improved efficiencies to be highly weighted KPI’s for our CEO, asking questions and ensuring accountability for results in this respect.
4/ List evidence of your skills, qualifications and experience that gives you the confidence to represent ratepayers on Council?
The largest proportion of ratepayers throughout the Taupō district are everyday people - employees, beneficiaries, retired persons, students. I hold a Diploma in Business from AUT, I am self-employed, a mother of two, a wife, and a ratepayer. These are my qualifications.
In regards to my experience, thirteen years working in varied roles within the investment industry sees me with proven organisational and communication skills. I have sound analytical skills with a strong attention to detail. I look at data critically and with understanding in order to make my decisions – if I am uncertain, I ask questions. I have no issue with standing up and challenging majority views if I believe it is right to do so.
5/ What are your governance, financial and critical analysis skills?
As well as the above, I have contributed to governance in a number of employed and voluntary roles and am confident I would be a balanced, diplomatic and pragmatic voice on Council in this space.
6/ With the District currently enjoying a growth phase, where should the priorities of capital expenditure be? What are the priorities for Taupo's future?
In my opinion, Council needs to realise the true cost of their existing responsibilities (financial and environmental) before entering into new commitments. So with this in mind an urgent investigation into the state of infrastructure assets is essential and top priority.
Beyond that, protection of our environment should be a priority - restoring green spaces and waterways and promoting green initiatives.
There is a two-fold benefit to both these priorities – creating a cleaner, safer environment for our district’s residents but also helping to continue to attract tourists to the district – tourists flock here for our District’s natural beauty but if this fades and without adequate infrastructure, tourists will venture to other destinations.
7/ The Council vision is to be the most prosperous and livable District in the North island. Would you as a Councillor have conflict between tourism and outdoor activity promotion and improving core services on behalf of residents?
As stated above, many of the needs of local residents run parallel with those of tourist. Our district attracts a massive number of tourists every year and we need to work with government in order to ensure our outdoor amenities and core services are up to scratch and future proofed in order to sustain growth In this area and also provide for our residents, some of whom service this industry.
Resident and tourist needs can be balanced and managed effectively so that everybody prospers.
8/ Councils by law can increase the Uniform Annual General Charge (UAGC) to 30% of total rates revenue. The UAGC is $250 per rateable unit which in 9.13% of total rates revenue (17/18). Would you support increasing UAGC to a higher level with an ultimate target of 30%?
UAGC is only one element of how our rates are assessed and charged and so to target a single element of rates doesn’t seem appropriate to me – and certainly not to increase this to a targeting 30% maximum without justification. I would however support a review of how our rates are charged.
9/ Is the Council differential rating mechanism fairly reflecting services and benefits across the district ratepayers?
For those reading this who are unsure what this question refers to - ‘Council applies differentials to some categories of rateable land to recognise that there are differences in the level of service and therefore the benefits each differential rating category derives from the various services provided by Council. In some cases costs to provide some services are higher for some rating categories and this is considered when setting differentials and applying them to rating categories’ – extract taken from TDC’s Revenue and Financing Policy 2018.
I believe with any rating mechanism there will be those who feel they are being unfairly charged. Is the current system fair? Without seeing how TDC’s differentials are calculated it would be unfair of me to judge.
10/ Taupo Council has one of the highest debt to ratepayer ratios of all Councils; do you agree with the Long Term Plan projected debt increase and have confidence that we ratepayers support this policy?
I absolutely do not support unjustifiable rates increases. Council must do all it can to reduce costs, improving efficiencies where possible before laying the burden of their financial decisions on our District’s ratepayers.
Spending on essential services, maintenance and replacement must be supported. And in some cases it can be wise to borrow money when borrowing costs are so low, in order to contribute financially to projects in this area, but such cases must be thoroughly planned and researched.
11/ Do you agree with the current policy re the Maori Wards?
Again, for those reading this who are unsure what this question refers to - Councils have statutory obligations to provide opportunities for Māori to contribute to local government decision-making processes.
I am aware that there are a number of forums in which Council and Iwi work together collectively and effectively in matters pertaining to our District and this is outside an elected seat at Council. I’m sure there are avenues where we can improve on engagement with Iwi but I’m not sure that establishing a Maori seat on council would necessarily help this. So yes, you could say that I agree with the current policy.
All citizens of our District have a right to put their names forward as Council nominees, just as I have as a first-time nominee. While it is certainly a daunting prospect and has its challenges, it is the fairest method currently available of supporting democracy in our Country.
12/ What is your analysis of the $40m ‘Cultural Centre’ project, particularly in reference to the $474k spent, before the Reserves Act was researched, showing no commercial activities allowed?
It is clear that there are some major issues with how this project was handled and spending ratepayer’s money on a project in this way without due diligence is irresponsible to say the least. I only hope that a thorough review of this project has been carried out so that the same mistakes will not occur again.
13/ What is your analysis of the ‘Northern Corridor Improvements’ project (costing $900k)?
Putting the cost of these improvements aside and the contentiousness of Traffic Lights over a round-about, I think the ultimate goal has been achieved, which was to improve safety for all concerned and ease woes for those attempting to get onto Wairakei Drive from Norman Smith Street.
The District’s long term transport strategy should have been dealt with before this even became a problem so perhaps we should all be focusing on what’s ahead of us instead of looking back.
14/ What is your preferred option for the CAB (Council Administration Building) and why? Include particular reference to building or leasing.
My preferred option would have been to build not lease. I feel the decision to put the council building in town has been a rushed decision, with inappropriate choices being included. In my opinion Council only gave ratepayers two options as part of the Consultation process – those being to build at Tūwharetoa Street or Lease. Lake Terrace was never an option because of legal restraints, same with the Tongariro Domain.
I see no reason why the council building needs to be in the CBD. My preferred option would have been to re-build at Lake Terrace (or an equivalent site such as that formerly occupied by Waiora House) which is outside Taupo Town Centre but still close enough to be readily accessible. This avenue could have been investigated (at cost to ratepayers) thoroughly prior to the consultation process commencing.
Our community should have been given the full facts and costings associated with all four choices for the CAB so that they could have made a more informed decision – the council would then have had no choice but to accept the majority voice, instead of going against the majority voice and making a decision on our behalf based on addition information they had to hand.
15/ During your time as a Councillor what is the highlight, the one achievement on behalf of ratepayers, that you have personally driven?
Not applicable. First-time nominee for Council.