Despite a low turnout at the first three community meetings the number of submissions the Council has received on its draft annual plan is consistent with previous years.
Community relations manager Gavin Thomas says the numbers are remarkably similar to the last four annual plans with 74 received this year compared with 97 in 2013, 75 in 2011 and 76 in 2010.
"Last year we had a number of pro forma submissions on the proposal to make Experience Mid Canterbury a council-controlled organisation and that bumped the numbers up."
"But take out those extras last year and we have remained steady at around the 75 submissions mark," he said.
The Council will hear submissions from residents who wish to present in person in support of their submission on Monday 26 May. There were 24 submitters who indicated they want to do this.
Mr Thomas says residents appear to understand the Long Term Plan is when the real decisions are made and that the annual plan just updates what has already been proposed.
The Council had 330 submissions to its latest Long Term Plan in 2012. The Long Term Plan sets the work programme and budget for the following three years in detail and then the next seven years in outline.
"It's fair to say residents with an interest in what the Council are doing are now engaging primarily through the long term plan," he said.
The second round of community meetings this year saw more residents coming out to meet with the Council, with 25 – 35 people attending each of the meetings in Hakatere, Rakaia and Mayfield.
This may suggest the smaller communities still see some value in the meetings and the opportunity to talk with elected members and staff about the proposed work programme and about issues in their community.
Mr Thomas says the Council will review the way it consults on the Annual Plan to see if there are better ways to connect with the community.
"There are online tools becoming available and a number of other options we can look at such as meeting with specific community sectors about issues that concern them," says Mr Thomas.
The Government is also looking to make changes in this area. A select committee report on changes to the Local Government Act is recommending that councils not be required to consult on the Annual Plan if there are no significant variations to what was proposed for that year in the Council's Long Term Plan.
The Bill containing a number of proposed changes to the Local Government Act is expected to be back in front of parliament in the next few weeks.
A consistent theme at the community meetings was the district's road network and particularly the maintenance of unsealed roads.
Mr Thomas says the Council is well aware of the views of residents regarding roads and of the need to improve the service and value for money provided.
"The meetings were an ideal opportunity for Council elected members and staff to explain what is being done in terms of changes to the contract management approach, additional investment and the lobbying of the government for a fairer funding system which are all aimed at improving service," he said.
The level of interest shown in the Annual Plan is a challenge being faced by all councils. Some have decided not to have community meetings altogether, some are looking to online technologies to see if these might provide better ways for the community to be involved.
"With the Annual Plan being by necessity a rather complex and dry document and it can be difficult for the average resident to get interested enough to attend a meeting or make a submission, said Mr Thomas.
The response to the recent rubbish and recycling survey, with close to 2,000 surveys returned, suggests the community will get involved if there is a single issue that residents have an interest in.
Mr Thomas says consulting issue by issue is providing better engagement with residents but with the breadth of information included in a Long Term Plan or Annual Plan this is not the solution for those documents.
In the coming six months the Council has a number of single issue community engagement exercises programmed including: transportation bylaw amendment, rubbish and recycling collection options, draft legal highs policy, Ashburton Domain development plan, EA Networks Centre hydroslide options.
"There is certainly a range of issues and proposals residents can get involved with, depending on their particular interests and concerns." said Mr Thomas.
Learn more about the Draft Annual Plan