Risk to service seen in revised, 'lean' budget

Cutting inflation adjustments and capping wage and salary increases has helped the Central Otago District Council trim a potential average district rate rise of about 5.9% to 5.2%.

However, council corporate services manager Susan Finlay warned councillors yesterday there was some risk involved with such a ''lean'' budget.

The council's long-term plan had indicated a rise of just over 7% but staff had worked to bring that down. She said most savings had come from taking out inflation adjustments but the biggest saving overall had come from capping wage and salary rises for this year and next year.

While staff would still get a pay rise, it would be lower than planned.

The intention, after the next election, was to use technology such as tablet computers to view agendas and other documents, saving about $40,000 in photocopying, she said.

However, rentals of district assets were down and the council faced a significant increase in insurance costs. Council chief executive Phil Melhopt said the budget would ''make it pretty difficult ... trying to deliver what the financial strategy says and keep the level of service''.

Deputy mayor Neil Gillespie said the only thing left to change in order to cut rates was the level of service.

''You've done what you've done and trimmed it [the budget] to the bone; the only thing left to give is the level of service ... but people don't say what they want less of, only what they want more of.''

Mrs Finlay said savings had also been made by combining the roles of the Roxburgh visitor information centre, library and council service centre, which operated from the same building. Other savings were gained by changes in IT and the funding of depreciation in the roading budget. Mrs Finlay said the Maniototo, Cromwell and Vincent community boards were yet to consider their ward component of rates so the average figure of 5.2% could change.