Cantabrians can now see with the click of a mouse how Environment Canterbury (ECan) proposes to collect and spend regional rates.
A new desktop rates tool went live early this month to coincide with Environment Canterbury’s consultation period for its draft Long-Term Plan. The website is an easy way for ratepayers to learn about how the regional council proposes to spend its 2018/19 budget and the projects their rates’ dollars fund.
“The site aims to make it much easier for members of the community to see, and therefore have a say on, how and where their rates are collected and spent,” said Environment Canterbury director of corporate services Miles McConway.
“This new tool shows where we collect different types of rates and where the projects are that this income funds. Often this information can seem hidden in lengthy documents and therefore far too difficult for ratepayers to access and understand. With this tool, each ratepayer can identify the rating area(s) they fall within and therefore what their rates (down to project level) are contributing to.”
The site was developed in conjunction with Christchurch specialist location data company Orbica, which is working with other local bodies to improve visibility of public information and how people engage with consultation processes.
Orbica geospatial innovator Santosh Seshadri said that the vision behind the site development was to “bring rates to life in an engaging way.”
“The thing that’s unique about it is it’s more of a storytelling tool than a data analytics tool. Most people expect to see a lot of numbers, graphs, charts. This is about communicating the story behind the data. And it’s a visually beautiful story.”
The project view is the real star of the show: it presents each individual Environment Canterbury project as a bubble. Each bubble’s colour identifies the portfolio the project sits within (e.g. freshwater management, transport and urban development etc) and the size represents the relative expenditure. The tool currently contains the proposed 2018/19 budget, which is year one of the new Long-Term Plan.
The site cleverly combines location data with attractive visuals for seamless interaction that helps people understand the data.
“That’s what’s special about it – it’s interactive,” said Orbica location data specialist Neal Johnston. “People are usually presented with graphs, maps or numbers. Shapes, sizes and animation can help to make sense of it all, which is why this is unique. It gives people the chance to immediately see what’s going on, backed up with traditional statistics.”
McConway said Environment Canterbury hoped to develop the site over time so ratepayers could see changes year-by-year across projects and across the region as different focus areas of work were rated for and undertaken. “We will also be investigating the development of a non-desktop/mobile device view.”
The site can be viewed at https://rates.ecan.govt.nz.
Ratepayers will still receive information about Environment Canterbury’s Long-Term Plan in their letterbox and on www.ecan.govt.nz, although it’s anticipated that this new online tool will be a valuable and exciting medium for people to interact with, providing a different way to view and understand the work of the regional council.
Submissions on Environment Canterbury’s draft Long-Term Plan are open until 26 March.