Unfortunately Porirua Mayor Anita Baker has recently made incorrect and misleading comments about a Wellington Water request made to Wellington City Council (WCC) for an additional $5M for reactive maintenance - that is fixing pipes after they break. As someone with closer knowledge of the situation I felt I needed to provide more information in response.
In March 2021 Wellington Water realised that they had underbudgeted for reactive maintenance for WCC in the 21/22 financial year. They made a request to WCC staff for $5m to be reallocated from the government stimulus funding. Given that WCC had already committed that funding to projects such as the much-needed Karori wastewater pipe renewals, staff asked for some more information before this request was brought to councillors. It has taken 11 months for Wellington Water to provide this additional information.
Once that information was received by WCC staff two weeks ago they agreed to recommend to councillors that we reprioritise some underspent capital funding to top up the (mistakenly) too low reactive maintenance budget. At the council meeting to agree this change, the Wellington Water CEO and board Chair presented an “adjusted budget” which WCC staff and councillors had never seen before. This is regrettable as it has added considerable confusion to a simple matter – a mistake was made in the budget and at the next Council meeting this error will be fixed.
My concern is not that this error happened – even high performing organisations make mistakes. My concern is that it has taken eleven months for Wellington Water to provide the information WCC staff requested.
Before the Mayoral Taskforce on Three Waters, a budget change like this would have been made behind the scenes by staff and never would have come to the council table. I support WCC staff in their efforts to provide greater information and transparency to councillors regarding Wellington Water budgets and performance.
WCC councillors know that our residents want us to sort out the pipes. Residents know it will be expensive and they have said they are prepared to pay. Councillors have no intention to “penny pinch” on this important area of investment. It is our job to ensure Wellington Water are spending ratepayers’ money wisely and we will continue to ask them questions to ensure that is happening.