Questions and suggestions were the order of the day for the
manager of the Dunedin Chinese Garden, Margo Reid, when she
appeared before city councillors yesterday to discuss the
garden's financial future.
The community development committee was considering a
progress report from Ms Reid on how the garden was going to
deal with falling visitor numbers and greater reliance on
ratepayer contributions to cover costs.
The committee met after the regular public forum, at which
Dunedin Ratepayers Association president Lyndon Weggery told
councillors ratepayers were disappointed with a two-page
report produced by Ms Reid two years after staff were asked
to investigate merging the garden with Toitu Otago Settlers
The report showed little had been done in that time to
address the issue of increasing amounts of ratepayer dollars
needed to keep the garden going, Mr Weggery said.
"Sorry people, but ... this short report is a joke."
When the council agreed to take on the garden, the
arrangement was that ratepayers would fund 60% of the
operating costs and the garden would cover the rest from
ticket and shop sales and room hire.
However, this year, it is expected a ratepayer contribution
of 69%, or $585,000, will be required as visitor numbers to
the garden continue to decrease.
In her report, Ms Reid said the staffing budget could be cut
by $55,000 by working more closely with the museum, and staff
were looking into commercial options.
She declined to discuss the details because people's jobs
were affected and, she said, it would not be sensible to put
anything forward until the museum was fully operational.
Commercial options were also yet to be canvassed, so she
could not elaborate at this stage.
She said she understood it had "taken a while" to get to this
stage, but the councillors' request "had not been actioned
immediately" and garden staff were "catching up" on it.
Committee chairman Cr Bill Acklin said garden staff had not
been doing nothing in the preceding 20 months. The garden's
operating and staff costs had been cut and further potential
savings had been identified.
To a question from Cr Lee Vandervis, Ms Reid said she
expected visitor numbers to rise when the museum reopened,
and further when the old Dunedin Prison was redeveloped and
the warehouse precinct was improved.
Last year there were about 28,000 visitors, and about 40,000
visitors a year would be ideal.
But operating costs had been cut about as low as they could
go, she told him.
She told Cr Andrew Noone the garden recognised the
opportunity cruise passengers represented and was actively
courting them by handing out pamphlets as they arrived in
Cr Jinty MacTavish asked if ticket sales at the museum and a
physical link between the buildings were being considered, to
which Ms Reid said everything was part of her review, but a
lot relied on waiting until the museum was fully operational
Cr MacTavish said it seemed "bizarre" some council-funded
facilities were free when others charged entry and asked if
the public had been asked their views on the barriers to
visiting the garden. Ms Reid said two surveys were under way.
Cr Richard Thomson said the garden's operational fit with the
museum should have been part of the museum's redevelopment
from the start, and arrangements should be expedited, rather
than something staff were "waiting to do".
He was also concerned the public debate focused too much on
finding cost savings, when it should focus on improving the
marketing of the garden.
Deputy mayor Chris Staynes agreed and said better marketing
of the city's attractions was a priority of the economic
development strategy, while council chief executive Paul
Orders said any increase in city marketing budgets would have
to be considered as part of next year's annual plan.