Wanganui's debt in perspective
I've had a look recently at local government statistics on Wanganui's debt and that of similarly-sized centres, just to see how we compare and whether our current and forecast debt is completely out of kilter. If you see the graph to the left, our debt rises with wastewater and earthquake strengthening debt adding to the burden, but then it drops away so that the city compares relatively favourably with other similarly-sized towns.
When you allow for actual population size and consider debt on a per capita basis (see left) Wanganui's progress in debt reduction again compares more than reasonably.
However, none of this analysis means that any centre is necessarily handling the debt issue well and that it couldn't be lower, but debt is a factor of municipal life if you're going to grow your city and provide the necessary infrastructure - we just need to consider ways of managing it better and to continually re-evaluate spend.
Wanganui's rates in perspective
Looking at total rates (below), again we're not performing too badly in comparison to our similarly-sized peers. However the average rates increase is 5.6% over the period. If Government is tasking its Ministries with significant expenditure reductions, should we be setting tougher targets? For example, increases no greater than CPI.
While CPI may have little relation to Council cost increases, it's an all-too-real measure for ratepayers/consumers relative to pay packets and superannuation. Efficiencies can always be found - the will and culture need to be there.
Wanganui's per capita rates (while it doesn't allow for rates for businesses or farmers) feature in the middle group - this might reflect more than anything our falling/static population.
Looking to the other side of the coin - the revenue or growth side - and increasing our population by 5,000 over the period (no mean feat requiring a turnaround in the rest of New Zealand's perception of us but it needs to be our objective) would bring our per capita rates down to second lowest.
Our Interest bill
Again these figures are from the local government website.
What they show is that we head the next tier after a chart-topping Gisborne. My quick estimates suggest that if we were nearer the bottom that it might make a difference of just under $1m per year. I hear indirectly that Council might be going for a credit rating to improve its ability to borrow at better rates - if so, then good.